Following a Gonzaga loss, I typically find myself frustrated and looking for definitive reasons for why the team came up short. However, this wasn't my reaction following the loss to Illinois. I expected the Zags to drop their first road game of the year because this is a team that relies on young players who really haven't faced adversity or a road environment. Also, while some people may claim we are putting the "guy" on a pedestal, the truth of the matter is that we won't have any true sense of this team until Guy Landry-Edi is incorporated into the rotation. Not only will he provide a fifth scorer in the starting lineup, he will also give the Zags an elite athlete on the defensive side of the ball, which will make up for some of the deficiencies of other guys.
Unfortunately, Landry-Edi won't be back on the court until next Saturday against Arizona, so until then, let's focus on the group at hand as they prepare to face Michigan St. and Oral Roberts. Although this isn't the highest-ranked opponent to ever set foot in the MAC, it's still a huge occasion to get one of the truly elite programs in college basketball to play in K2 in the non-conference schedule. Tom Izzo is my personal pick if I could have any coach in the country, and his willingness to challenge his team in the non-conference is one of the reasons his teams are always prepared for the NCAA Tournament.
Green is surrounded by a group of versatile players, led by sophomore guard Keith Appling. Appling will be a difficult matchup for either David Stockton or Kevin Pangos, which leads me to believe that we will not see those two on the court together. If there was one thing to learn from the Illinois game it was the fact that a 2-3 zone with Stockton and Pangos at the top won't work against athletic teams with good shooters. Neither of those guys is long enough or quick enough to disrupt an offense. At some point, the staff needs to give GBJ the opportunity to play 25-30 minutes and use his defensive ability to make an impact. Until Landry-Edi makes his debut, Gonzaga won't be able to win games with lineups featuring Pangos, Stockton and Hart. There is just not enough athleticism and quickness in that group to win against top teams.
While I didn't have a good vibe heading into the game in Illinois, I have a lot of confidence with Michigan St. heading into town. I think this Spartans team will be very good by the end of the year, but much like Gonzaga, they have a lot of young guys that are learning their roles as the season goes on. I expect the Zags to take advantage of the veteran front court and a raucous crowd to earn a 71-63 victory.