While Gonzaga enters its matchup against BYU with a gaudy 17-3 record, this difficult trip to Provo will tell us more about where this team stands heading into the final stretch of the season then any game before. Not only is BYU the most talented team that the Zags have faced since the loss to St. Mary's, but it's also a desperate team that knows how important a win on Thursday would be for the tournament resume. I'm of the belief that a desperate team is the most dangerous team you can face, so it would be best to ignore any of the recent struggles that BYU has had when evaluating this game.
Four of BYU's six losses have come against teams that are currently ranked in the Top 25, with the other two coming against Utah St. and LMU. While some Gonzaga fans certainly have an image of BYU from the NCAA Tournament loss last season, it should be noted that without Jimmer Fredette, this Cougars team is very different from the group that advanced to the Sweet 16. A good comparison to the adjustment that BYU is making would be to look at the 2006-07 Gonzaga team that struggled at times to figure out how to play after the departure of Adam Morrison.BYU is one of the few teams that can match the interior size and talent that Gonzaga can put on the floor. The duo of Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies is incredibly talented and versatile. Hartsock has made the jump from role player to primary scoring target this season, as he is averaging a team-high 17.5 ppg. Harstock is shooting 58.5% from the floor, but has struggled with his shot from behind the arc. I'm not sure how the Zags will try and matchup with Harstock, because Robert Sacre doesn't have the quickness to stay with him on the perimeter. Elias Harris has the athleticism and length to stay with Harstock and probably would be the best individual matchup.
Davies, who was heavily recruited by Gonzaga coming out of high school, is more of an interior threat for the Cougars. In his return from suspension, Davies is averaging 14.3 ppg and a team-high 7.9 rpg. It will be fascinating to watch Sacre try and contain Davies, who has a vast array of post moves and excellent footwork on the block. If Sacre can stay disciplined defensively, he has the size and shot-blocking ability to really bother Davies in the paint.
Matt Carlino is the primary offensive option on the perimeter, but has struggled in his role as the replacement for Fredette. Carlino is shooting only 41.8% from the field and doesn't necessarily have the best shot selection. However, he is the type of streaky shooter that has given Gonzaga problems in the past. Gary Bell will need to be at his best on the defensive end and extend his defense out on the perimeter. If Carlino can get going from the perimeter, BYU will be very difficult to beat in Provo.
I have gone back-and-force on how I feel this game will turn out. It's hard to believe that BYU won't come out with an intensity that Gonzaga probably hasn't seen this season. However, this Gonzaga team knows how important this game is in terms of keeping pace in the WCC race with a St. Mary's team that is looking like one of the best in the country. With that said, I'm not sure Gonzaga is catching the Cougars at the right time and I expect the Zags to fall 77-70.