24 wins in, Mark Few takes stock

Caught up with Gonzaga coach Mark Few in an early-February conversation this week, and he addressed a wide range of topics, mostly on his roster.

The top-ranked Zags are now 24-0, and as of Wednesday, that means that in Few’s 18 years as head coach, they’ve now gone 56 days longer -- eight weeks -- than the 2008-09 team did to open a season. That squad lost to Arizona on Dec. 14 and until this one, was the longest not to experience defeat under Few.

So I asked him: Does it feel any different to be undefeated?

“Not to me,” he said. “It just feels like the next game: ‘Hey, we’ve got to get going on this next one. There are conference-championship ramifications on the line this week.’

“People talk about it, but it’s not even that focused (at GU) on it. We’re just trying to get through the next week. We’ve got to get better this week than we just were, whether it’s one percent improvement or whatever, whether it’s rebounding, taking care of the ball, or something else.”

More observations from Few:

-- On Nigel Williams-Goss and his increasingly exceptional play: “He’s a very, very eager learner and student of the game. He’s really hard on himself. He wants to get 100 percent on every quiz, or anything that comes up, practice or games. I think there was a point when he really began to trust us as a staff. The more you get to know him, you understand how competitive and tough he is. The other thing is, he’s a ferocious defender now. It’s based more on preparation and attention to detail and innate toughness.”

-- On Przemek Karnowski and his improvement this year: “Especially this last month or so, he’s really been moving and handling himself around the basket. He’s got a little bit more of an arsenal down there. Finally, after five years, we’ve convinced him he can be successful using his right hand and going over his left shoulder.”

-- On Johnathan Williams III: “We don’t really know what clicks. When he decides to come out and be really assertive and play with some emotion is when we’re at our best, at both ends. He’s kind of a low-key guy, so pulling that out of him sometimes has been hard.”

-- On Zach Collins: “He’s a talent; he’s going to be very, very good. He really helped us down the stretch at BYU, protecting the rim and rebounding. His next jump, hopefully, will be to get him passing and handling the ball a little bit, kind of like (Kelly) Olynyk.”

-- On Killian Tillie, the freshman forward, and his quick return from an ankle sprain suffered in Portland Jan. 23: “He’s a tough kid. He responds pretty quickly. He wants to play. He’s just kind of an energizer.”

Elsewhere, a few morsels from around the state and college hoops:

-- Saturday marks not only ESPN College GameDay’s first appearance at Saint Mary’s -- where Gonzaga plays that evening -- but the NCAA basketball committee’s inaugural rollout of its top 16 seeds for the 2017 tournament. Most are forecasting Gonzaga to be the No. 1 overall seed. But given the fluid nature of the sport and the number of games played, those projections could see upheaval by nightfall. So it’s likely to be more of an exercise in describing how the process works.

-- The futility of Washington, now 9-14 with uber-freshman Markelle Fultz, underscores how individual talent hasn’t always been an asset on Montlake. I researched the past 10 NBA drafts this week, and the numbers are fairly startling: Fultz would be the seventh Husky in that period not to play in the NCAA tournament in the same year he was drafted in the first round, joining Spencer Hawes (2007), Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten (2012); C.J. Wilcox (2014); Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray (2016). (Ross and Wilcox played in the 2011 tournament, last one to include the Huskies.) The mind-bending part is that no other NCAA school has had more than two such players.

-- What are the odds? Washington State visits Utah Thursday night, and chances are, anything would be an improvement for WSU over its last two games with the Utes. The Cougars lost both -- improbably, by the same score, 88-47, last February in Salt Lake City and Jan. 18 in Pullman.

-- When asked, Few sought to correct an eyebrow-raising assertion by multiple TV analysts that he earlier named Williams-Goss "the best leader" he's ever had. While conceding that he could have misstated his feelings, Few, noting that GU has had some powerful leaders like Kevin Pangos, says, "What I've said is, we've had some great leaders and he's certainly right up there with the best of them. What he does better, he can really communicate around the floor. He does so much talking (to teammates)."