Kevin Pangos had already heard the question. It was a common one during the Gonzaga Bulldogs’ media availability Saturday before Sunday’s round-of-32 NCAA tournament South Region game against Iowa.
The Zags (33-2) have big guys who can score. The Hawkeyes (21-11) have big guys who can score. And they’re one of the only teams left in this tournament that has big guys who might be able to stop Gonzaga’s big guys from scoring.
So, if the Zags are to advance to their first Sweet 16 since 2009, they must do it by defeating a team that looks more like them than most others still playing.
“Everyone’s asking that one, actually,” Pangos said with a laugh inside Gonzaga’s locker room, about 24 hours prior to Sunday’s 4:10 p.m. tipoff at KeyArena. “Yeah, there’s a lot of similarities — just how they move the ball, and they spread it around. All five guys on the floor on their team can all be effective and score.”
That’s true of Gonzaga, too, on a more productive level. Four of GU’s five starters average double-figures, the exception being defensive ace Gary Bell Jr., and he still averages a healthy 8.3 points per game.
Iowa is led by the 16.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game of 6-foot-9 senior Aaron White, a power forward who posts similar numbers as GU’s leading scorer, Kyle Wiltjer, but does more of his damage slashing to the rim instead of stretching the defense with frequent 3-point attempts.
But the Hawkeyes have just one other double-figure scorer — Jarrod Uthoff, who is also 6-9 — in addition to four players who average between 6.7 and 8.2 points per game.
Iowa also has bigger guards, including 6-6 shooting guard Peter Jok, who plays just 20 minutes per game but scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds in 29 minutes during Iowa’s dominant 83-52 victory over Davidson in the first round. Bell, the former Kentridge star who stands 6-2, figures to draw that defensive assignment.
“We haven’t seen size like this in any of our nonleague games or anything,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “This is a really, really long team. So that when we’re on offense, it’s going to be interesting to see how our guys adjust to that. They’re long all the way across the board.”
That’s why White looks at each team’s front line — Gonzaga’s rotation features three bigs 6-foot-10 or taller, while Iowa uses four guys 6-foot-9 or taller — and understands why the comparisons are made.
And he’s already seen the Bulldogs plenty. Watched them on TV. Spent time with Pangos during the summer at the LeBron James Skills Academy. Spotted Gonzaga on Iowa’s side of the bracket and got curious.
“They’re very similar to us, to be honest, with the size (and) the way they want to play,” White said. “They want to get out and run. They want to score the ball. So it’s a team I watched a lot. It’s a team that when the bracket was all set up, you kind of looked at them that we might get them in the second round, and I was excited about the matchup.”
If White and Iowa, the No. 7 seed, are excited, then consider the Bulldogs, the No. 2 seed and a 5-point favorite, somewhat wary.
“We’re going to have to play great (Sunday) to win,” Few said, “because this Iowa team’s on a roll. What I saw (Friday) night was very impressive.”
No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs (33-2, 17-1 in West Coast Conference) vs. No. 7 Iowa Hawkeyes (22-11, 12-6 in Big Ten)
Statistics for 2014-15:
|Gary Bell Jr.||G||6-2||8.3||2.5||1.9||41.1||72.7|