DENVER, CO - MARCH 19: Sam Dower #35 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives to the basket James Anderson #15, Logan Magnusson #12 and Charles Abouo #1 of the Brigham Young Cougars during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Pepsi Center on March 19, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
It's pretty hard to believe that the 2011-12 season is set to begin, especially with how vivid the season-ending loss to BYU still feels for the majority of Gonzaga fans. However, a new era of Gonzaga basketball is set to begin tonight when the Zags welcome EWU to the MAC. For the first time since the 2009 team, there isn't a singular player that exemplifies this team, as guys like Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray did over the past two years. Instead, this is a Gonzaga team without a superstar that has the potential to be deep and versatile on the offensive end, while possessing the athleticism and length to be a vastly improved defensive team.
While PG play is the most pressing issue with this team, I don't expect to learn much from the matchup with EWU. The real test for David Stockton and Kevin Pangos will come as the Zags get deeper into the non-conference schedule and face teams like Arizona and Xavier. With that said, EWU should provide enough of a test that some semblance of a rotation should be on display. It will also be interesting to see if some of the Redshirt theories that have been bantered about on this site are true. It would not surprise me to see any one of Kyle Dranginis, Kelly Olynyk, Chris Sarbaugh, Mathis Keita or Ryan Spangler sitting out tomorrow against EWU in an effort to preserve a year of eligibility.It's hard to predict what fans should expect from EWU, as the Eagles have a new head coach in Jim Hayford, who was hired after a successful run at Whitworth. The guy that will likely provide Gonzaga with the most difficult individual matchup is Tremayne Johnson. The senior forward provides the Eagles with an athletic wing that has the size and skill to exploit a potential individual matchup with either Marquise Carter or Elias Harris (Note: This would be a great matchup for Guy Landry Edi...unfortunately that won't be possible).
Along with Johnson, the Eagles also have JC transfer Collin Chiverton on the wing. Chiverton is an excellent shooter that committed to St. Mary's out of high school but bounced around the JC scene before ending up at EWU. Chiverton is a solid player that could really stretch the Gonzaga defense.
The frontcourt should be an area that Gonzaga dominates throughout the season. The Zags hold an edge in size and skill in the post area, and guys like Robert Sacre, Elias Harris and Sam Dower should have no problem scoring against an undersized EWU frontline. Assuming that Gonzaga gets steady play from the backcourt and takes advantage of the size and athleticism advantage on the frontline, I expect the Zags to emerge with an 81-60 victory.