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Defend the three, defeat the Gaels?

For as long as I care to remember, Gonzaga and inefficient perimeter defense have been synonymous.  The three point shot has become the great equalizer in all levels of basketball and plays a key role in virtually every major upset that takes place.  The Zags have suffered their fair share of three point barrages this year and over the past few seasons.  With their most important game of the season on the horizon, Gonzaga has very little room for error.  Against a strong offensive team like Saint Mary's, this starts with defending the three point shot.

Over the course of the season, the Zags have struggled in a number of different areas but perhaps none has been as repetitively frustrating as the perimeter defense woes.  At this time, Gonzaga is allowing the opposition to shoot 37% from the field.  If you are keeping track, this puts the Zags somewhere near the bottom of all division one programs.  

While a number of you will likely be saying "Duh, Zach, like we didn't know Gonzaga is awful defending the three" at this moment, I can assure you that there is a damn good reason for bringing this all up at this time.  For more, follow the link below...

As bad as Gonzaga's perimeter defense has been this season, Saint Mary's has been as impressive hoisting the deep ball up.  At 39%, SMC is in the top twenty across the country in three-point %.  While it isn't as bad as I thought, the Gaels do tend to shoot the three-point shot in excess as 38% of their attempted field goals are from beyond the arc.  This all obviously stops and starts with Gaels guard Mickey McConnell who touts a 48% mark from beyond the arc and is in the top ten in terms of effective field goal percentage at 64.5% (eFG is basically FG% with some added weight to the three point basket).  McConnell has blossomed into one of the best shooters and overall offensive players in the country and Gonzaga saw this first hand in the two teams' first matchup.

Speaking of that first game and back to our original topic.  A big piece of Saint Mary's gameplan on January 27th was to punish the Zags from the outside.  While it wasn't the Gaels' most efficient display, there were still able to rattle in 8-23 from deep, equating to 34% of their points coming off the three point basket.  Comparatively, the Zags only wound up cashing in five threes and lost the game by a couple points.  Was it the only cause for the loss?  Absolutely not, the Zags floundered offensively and compounded that with turnovers but the groundwork was laid by Saint Mary's aggressive offensive game plan.

Even thought Saint Mary's is the team walking into this one with a slight limp, you can bet that they are going to do whatever it takes to grab the momentum early and try and knock the Zags out early.  At that point, it will be on Gonzaga and Mark Few to weather the storm and withstand the early attack.  A huge part of this relies on the Zags stopping penetration.  While McConnell is SMC's best three point shooter, he by no means is their only one.  Gonzaga's been burned recently by the drive and kick and this is one of Saint Mary's specialties.  For that reason, I think it is imperative for Demetri Goodson to stay on the court for a good majority of the game.  His offensive liabilities are well documented but there is no one on this team that possesses his perimeter defending abilities in terms of quickness and athletic ability.  Goodson has done well in the past against McConnell but in the first matchup, he only saw 21 minutes.  I think he's going to have to stay on the court for at least nearly thirty minutes on Thursday or else I could see McConnell having a huge night in Moraga.

The three-point shot.  That's my key to the game.  What's yours?


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