As Zach so eloquently pointed out in his blog post yesterday, while it is great that Gonzaga is off to a 5-0 start, we really don't know much about this team. The competition level has been relatively poor in the opening two weeks of the season and the rotation will continue to be a work in progress until the debut of Guy Landry-Edi. We have seen glimpses of greatness from some of the newcomers and spells of questionable basketball from a couple veteran guys. However, the little bits of inconsistency haven't really been exposed because the Zags haven't been forced to play 40 minutes of good basketball to earn a win.
While this Illinois team isn't a Top 25 team at this point, this game will present a big test for Gonzaga. It's never easy to fly across the country and then play an early afternoon game. It's even more difficult when you have to play the game on the home court of a team that is looking to prove the preseason expectations were far too low. Unfortunately, this is the exact scenario Gonzaga will face on Saturday. Illinois is a talented team that failed to live up to big expectations last season (I've done my best to try and forget the Battle In Seattle), but returns some very good talent and appears to have better chemistry.The aspect of this game I am most excited to watch is to see how the Gonzaga frontcourt responds to facing a group that can match it in size. Although he hasn't reached his potential yet, sophomore C Meyers Leonard has a lot of talent and plays with an edge. He is averaging 12.3 ppg and 6.7 rpg and will provide Rob Sacre with his biggest challenge this young season. We have seen a lot of improvement and signs of growth from Sacre this season, but that should be expected given the competition. If Rob can deliver a double-double against the Fighting Illini it will say a lot about where he is as a player.
With Sacre and Leonard set to matchup, it leaves Elias Harris with the chance to dominate the interior. Tyler Griffey is a nice player, but he shouldn't be able to slow down Harris if Illinois decides to guard him straight up. If we see that relentless motor that was on display against Notre Dame, Gonzaga could get a huge game from Elias.
I also am very curious to see how Kevin Pangos and David Stockton handle the athletic Illinois backcourt. While both have been excellent on the offensive end so far, my huge fear is that neither has the ability to keep a quick guard in front of them. This fear came to fruition during the Wazzu comeback, as Reggie Moore got into the lane at will in the second half. Gonzaga will struggle to win this game if it can't contain D.J Richardson and Brandon Paul.
Too be honest, I don't have a great feel on this game. Illinois has nice talent, but the schedule it has played hasn't provided many tests. However, the same thing can be said about Gonzaga. This game will be a huge marker for where this team stands, as it will be revealing to see how these freshman guards handle their first true road game. Gonzaga is fully capable of winning this game, and I think there is a very good chance it will. However, something tells me we see the Zags drop a close one, in a 71-66 loss.