clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

#7 Gonzaga Game Preview & How to Watch

Is this finally the year the Huskies get it done against the Zags?

NCAA Basketball: Northern Illinois at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

How to Watch (and bet)

Date: Saturday, 12/9/23

Tip-Off Time: 8:00 pm PT

TV: ESPN2

Streaming: Espn.com/watch

Radio: Huskies Gameday App, Sports Radio KJR

Location: Seattle, Washington

Betting Line: Washington Huskies +5

#7 Gonzaga Bulldogs 2023-24 Statistics:

Record: 7-1

Points For per Game: 82.1 ppg (32nd)

Points Against per Game: 68.3 ppg (95th)

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 118.6 (11th)

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 94.4 (19th)

Strength of Schedule: 62nd

Gonzaga Key Players:

G- Ryan Nembhard, Jr. 6’0. 175: 12.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.6 apg, 40.2% FG, 22.2% 3pt, 80.0% FT

Like brother...like brother I guess. Andrew Nembhard transferred from Florida to Gonzaga and now is a meaningful NBA rotation player so his younger brother Ryan is attempting the same thing from Creighton. He has gotten off to a slow shooting start but otherwise is putting up similar stats to what he did last year. He’s a really solid floor general but isn’t very disruptive on the defensive end.

G- Nolan Hickman, Jr. 6’2, 183: 13.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, 46.6% FG, 35.1% 3pt, 90.0% FT

The long awaited breakout season from Nolan Hickman may finally be happening as his scoring is up from 7.7 points per game last year. He also almost completely dispensed with playing point guard this year, leaving most of the passing to Nembhard and also isn’t adding much in the way of rebounding. His free throw rate is also almost nonexistent so everything is a jump shot or an uncontested look at the rim.

G- Dusty Stromer, Fr. 6’6, 192: 7.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.5 apg, 34.7% FG, 36.4% 3pt, 84.6% FT

The Zags lost Eastern Washington transfer Steele Venters in the offseason to injury and looked to have a big hole on the wing. Enter 4-star freshman Dusty Stromer who has been the perfect piece to round out Gonzaga’s starting lineup. He doesn’t do much other than rebound and shoot open 3-pointers at nearly a 40% clip but that’s all Gonzaga needs from him right now.

F- Anton Watson, Sr. 6’8, 228: 14.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 62.2% FG, 46.2% 3pt, 52.6% FT

Watson has now inherited the mantle of “the guy” from Timme and Strawther. He has always been a good offensive rebounder but has taken the defensive rebounding to another level with Timme gone. He also doesn’t shoot a lot of 3’s (about 1.5 per game) but is making 46% so far despite entering the year ~25% for his career. The efficiency around the rim though is where Watson gets most of his points and that hasn’t dropped off. He has shot at least 59% on 2’s all five seasons. The Watson vs. Brooks battle at the 4 will be tremendous.

F- Graham Ike, Sr. 6’9, 240: 13.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.1 apg, 57.1% FG, 40.0% 3pt, 79.2% FT

Husky fans will surely have PTSD from when Ike was at Wyoming and scored 26 points on 11/18 shooting just backing down Nate Roberts over and over with no double team help. He missed last season due to injury but is back and just bludgeoning opponents at the glass with the 16th best offensive rebounding rate in the country. Expect a barrage of put back baskets for Ike and at least a 15 point double double against UW.

The Outlook

The conventional wisdom was that this might finally be the year that Gonzaga drops off. And it technically it might be true. The Zags have finished top-3 in adjusted offensive efficiency for 5 straight seasons but rank just 11th right now. However, it certainly doesn’t look like they’re going to drop off very far.

Gone are 3 starters from last year’s team: Rasir Bolton, Julian Strawther, and Drew Timme. That trio combined for 46 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. Gonzaga attempted to replace them as close to one-to-one as possible with the additions of guard Ryan Nembhard, wing Steele Venters, and big Graham Ike. Venters’ season-ending injury partially foiled those plans but it hasn’t bitten Gonzaga yet.

Without Venters this isn’t an overly deep team as they stick with basically a 7-man rotation. Gonzaga ranks 342nd in bench minutes right now so things dry up quick if multiple main contributors get into foul trouble.

Mark Few though is still able to manufacture easy 2-point baskets through crisp ball and player movement. The Zags get 58% of their points on shots inside the arc which is 35th in the country. It’s perhaps a sign of how easy those baskets are that this team almost never gets to the free throw line. They haven’t had to really in part because they play volleyball on the glass, rebounding almost 40% of missed shots. Franck Kepnang has to play the game of his life tonight to limit the duo of Watson and Ike on the offensive glass.

Last year’s Gonzaga team struggled on defense and relied on the best offense in the country. This year has been a more balanced squad even if the individual defensive pieces aren’t as obvious. There is no shot blocker on this team. Backup center Ben Gregg leads the team with a block rate of 3.6%. That’s essentially equal to Moses Wood and would be 3rd on Washington. They also don’t get a lot of steals. Gonzaga is 308th in turnover rate on defense. If UW doesn’t commit careless turnovers, the Zags won’t force the issue.

In every other respect though this is a very good defense. Gonzaga ranks between 33rd and 40th nationally in defensive rebounding rate, 2-point percentage, and 3-point percentage on defense. They don’t give up open shots and they don’t allow second chance points and they’re okay not gambling for steals to achieve that outcome.

So far this season the Zags have had a well-rounded schedule. They played one non-D1 team (75 point win) as well as #2 Purdue. Their lone loss was by 10 points to Zach Edey and the Boilermakers. They’ve also played a pair of 300+ ranked teams and won by an average of 28 points. They’ve played a pair of ~100th ranked teams and won by an average of 18 points. And they’ve played a pair of ~40th ranked teams and won by an average of 7 points.

That slate included a trip to Maui and a neutral court game in Las Vegas (the same event which had UW play Colorado State) but this is their first true road game of the season and the only one until January 11th. That should help Washington but then again there are sure to be a large number of Zags fans in attendance.

The Huskies absolutely have to win this game if they want to entertain thoughts of an NCAA tournament at-large berth. Washington had opportunities for a signature win against both San Diego State and Colorado State but couldn’t quite seal the deal. Unfortunately, I see it happening one more time as the Dawgs are ahead with about 8 minutes to go but let it slip away in the final minutes.

Prediction

My record this year: 7-1 Straight Up, 2-5-1 Against the Spread

Washington Huskies- 78, Gonzaga Bulldogs- 86