After two games that I would classify as borderline exhibitions, the Zags are finally ready to face their first teset when they welcome San Diego St. to the MAC. While I don't mean to take anything away from the teams at Southern University and IUPUI, this game against SDSU presents Gonzaga with a whole new level of challenge. The Aztecs were picked to win the Mountain West Conference, which is one of the elite mid-major conferences in the country. Not only do the Aztecs return talent, they also bring back experience, with all five starters returning to a team that is coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance last season.
San Diego St is led by one of the top post players in the entire country in Kawhi Leonard. As a freshman, Leonard nearly averaged a double-double, scoring 12.7 points and pulling down 9.9 rebounds per game. It should come as no surprise that his role and production is expected to only further grow during his sophomore season in the program. Leonard will be an incredibly difficult matchup for the Zags, but the hope is that the multitude of long and athletics big guys can disrupt him and keep him from getting into a comfort zone. It's against guys like Leonard, and other elite post player in the country, that guys like Sam Dower and Kelly Olynyk off the bench will be so vital.
On the perimeter, Gonzaga will need to focus on the combo of D.J. Gay and James Rahon. If Rahon sounds like a familiar name, it's because he came to SDSU from Santa Clara. Rahon is an elite shooter and a guy that can get hot and single-handidly change the course of the game. I would expect to see a combination of Steven Gray, The Hoff and Manny Arop following him around throughout the game. Gay is a bit more of a versatile guy, as he can attack the rim and also can score from the perimeter. Its this versatility on the perimeter that makes SDSU such a difficult team to matchup with and slow down when it gets a rhythm going.
This game will be an excellent barometer heading into the games against Kansas St. and potentially Duke. San Diego St. is criminally underrated in the national polls and I expect the Aztecs to come in with a great sense of confidence and expectations to seize this opportunity. While Gonzaga may have been able to take its foot off the gas a couple of times against IUPUI and Southern, doing so against San Diego St. will result in a loss. With that said, I believe this team has the focus to avoid losing focus and composure, as I think Steven Gray and Rob Sacre have embraced the leadership role.
My Prediction: Gonzaga 83, San Diego St. 74