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Gonzaga Bulldogs Game Preview/Open Thread

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Can Washington finally best the Bulldogs and Mark Few?

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Essentials

Date: Wednesday, 12/5/18

Tip-Off Time: 8:00 pm PT

TV: ESPN2

Streaming: ESPN.com/watch

Radio: KOMO 1000 AM/97.7 FM and TuneIn

Location: Spokane, Washington

Betting Line: Washington +15

Gonzaga 2018-19 Statistics:

Record: 8-0

Points For per Game: 98.4 (1st)

Points Against per Game: 76.0 (232nd)

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 121.5 (2nd)

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 94.7 (31st)

Strength of Schedule: +5.2 (65th)

Gonzaga Key Players:

F- Brandon Clarke, Jr. 6’8, 215: 17.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.9 bpg, 77.3% FG, 58.8% FT

At San Jose State Clarke was one of the best mid-major big men in the country and so far with Gonzaga he’s put up essentially the same numbers in 8 less minutes per game. He’s 10th in the country in Offensive Rating and 11th in block percentage and the versatility he gives them as a rim protector and a low post option surrounded by shooters might be the biggest reason Gonzaga is a top-3 team rather than just a top-10 team.

F- Rui Hachimura, Jr. 6’8, 230: 21.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.5 apg, 60.6% FG, 50% 3pt, 67.3% FT

I’ll admit I thought Hachimura was overrated last season but he’s stepped up his game in a major way so far. He’s a better shooter and his overall efficiency numbers have remained the same while he’s taken on a much bigger scoring burden. He has the size and skill to decimate the zone if he consistently gets into the high post.

G- Corey Kispert, So. 6’6, 215: 8.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.4 apg, 42.4% FG, 40% 3pt, 100% FT

The Edmonds native was never a serious UW target but man would it be nice to see him in purple and gold instead. He’s not an elite athlete but is long enough with great skill and shooting to be the perfect glue guy on this high powered Gonzaga offense. Kispert is essentially a catch and shoot guy for this particular team but has the ability to do more if it’s asked of him.

G- Zach Norvell, So. 6’5, 205: 18.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.4 apg, 43.8% FG, 37.8% 3pt, 80.6% FT

Norvell’s efficiency numbers in year 2 are almost identical to last year except he’s taking 4 more shots per game and he’s significantly cut down on his turnovers. He has the ability to go supernova from deep and about 2/3rd of his shots come from behind the arc.

G- Josh Perkins, So. 6’3, 190: 11.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 8.6 apg, 51.6% FG, 37.9% 3pt, 90% FT

Perkins is the floor general you want from a 5th year senior and has been masterful running the Gonzaga offense. He’s 2nd in the country in assists and has shot at least 38% from deep every single season of his career.

2018-19 Gonzaga Shot Chart

I guess this is what it looks like when you have the best offense in the country. The strategy should be...to just let them...huh. Maybe try praying?

Synergy Sports

The Outlook

You would like to think that with 4 seniors and one of the most experienced teams in the country that this would finally be the year for the Huskies to beat Gonzaga. Washington beat eventual Final-4 team Kansas in Kansas City last season so anything is possible but it would be an even more monumental task for them to pull this one out tonight.

On the bright side for the Huskies this is the weakest the Bulldogs will be all season. Killian Tillie (who shot 47.9% from 3-pt range last year at 6’10) is still out of the lineup as is reserve guard Geno Crandall who was Gonzaga’s worst rotation player but was getting 18 minutes per game before breaking his hand last week. That lack of depth means the Zags will go with essentially a 7 man rotation but all 7 of those players have an offensive rating better than 117 where 100 is league average.

That helps explain why the Bulldogs have if not the best offense in the country then definitely one of the best 3. They’re technically undersized at center but everyone on the team is at least 6’3 and everyone available for this game except PG Josh Perkins is 6’5 or taller. Washington’s length will make a difference in the passing lanes but Gonzaga has the length to get their shots off against every team in the country.

If you’re looking for a bright spot, it’s that without Killian Tillie this team looks quite similar at a glance to the Kansas team that Washington knocked off last year. Brandon Clarke is essentially Azubuike; a premier shot blocker who is automatic if he gets the ball in the post but is their only rim protector. Meanwhile, he’s surrounded by a lot of guys who shoot high percentages from 3-pt range to open up space down low. The problem is that I think Mark Few is a much better coach than Bill Self and won’t allow one player to take 25 midrange shots like Kansas attempted.

Creighton was able to hold a 7 point lead on Gonzaga at halftime. Arizona held an 8 point lead at halftime. It’s possible to hold them down for a little while if you come out shooting well and are able to disrupt Gonzaga’s timing. But no team has been able to slow them down for an entire game. They’ve scored at least 84 points in every single one so far this season.

On the other end there will be opportunities for the Huskies to score. Gonzaga is the 8th fastest team on offense in the country which means that make or miss they give the opponent back the ball a lot. It’s similar to the Oregon football offense of the Chip Kelly era where their points per game numbers look bad because they’re having scoring drives of 1 minute and 42 seconds all the time. The big defensive strength for Gonzaga though is they don’t get beat very often by ball movement. They’re 3rd in the country in limiting opponents’ assists which means we could be looking for another night of frustrating ball movement for Washington where Crisp and Nowell combine for just 5 assists.

The Bulldogs have been vulnerable to isolation scoring where it isn’t about coordination and team movement but simply about foot speed and athleticism. This seems like a game where Jaylen Nowell will have to take over with a 11/16 from the field type of game for Washington to succeed. Naz Carter could be also be an X-factor as I think he might have great success taking Corey Kispert off the dribble. Brandon Clarke is an elite shot blocker but if Noah is able to bait him into a pair of early fouls then it will open up the rim. You can bet tough that the Bulldogs will double him every chance they get.

If you can’t tell, I’m not very optimistic about this game. I predicted we’d lose to Kansas by 20+ last year so what do I know but given Washington’s shooting woes so far this year I don’t see them keeping it close. If 3 of Green, Thybulle, Carter, and Crisp all shoot 40% or better from deep in the game then that changes the equation greatly but UW just doesn’t appear to have the firepower to keep up.

Prediction

Washington Huskies- 72, Gonzaga Bulldogs- 94

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