Over the past few years, Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary's has been one of the most watched rivalries on the west coast. Under head coach Randy Bennett, SMC has become one of the top programs in the WCC. While they have been outstanding over the past few years, they are still looking to dethrone the Zags as regular season West Coast Conference champions. Matt Dellavedova and Rob Jones are a formidable one-two punch for Saint Mary's and with a solid 15-2 record on the season, they are off to a great start. The two teams square off in round one of a two (possibly three) round fight. With that said, we felt like it would be a great time to take the pulse of the Gonzaga fanbase via Twitter. In case you weren't aware, you can follow us on Twitter @slipperstillfit. If you don't have Twitter, you are seriously, seriously missing out. Here are some of the questions that our fans posed:
Q: How will the Zags slow down Rob Jones, especially after struggling with Draymond Green?
Max Mandel: I want to preface this by saying that Rob Jones isn't at the level of Draymond Green, who in my opinion is one of the best players in the country (what are the odds I get called an idiot for saying Rob Jones is as good as Draymond Green despite my preface?), but there certainly are some similarities that make this a valid point. Both are versatile big men that can play on the perimeter and also score on the drive and in the paint.
For those that have done their best to block out Green's 34-point performance, the most alarming aspect of it was that there didn't seem to be any answer for him. Gonzaga shouldn't go into a zone against St. Mary's, because the Gaels have the perimeter players that would take advantage the 2-3. However, I'm not sure that there is anyone on the roster that matches up well with Jones, who is averaging 15.4 ppg and 10.5 rpg. Jones can score in a variety of ways and has the type of strength that would overwhelm Mike Hart in an individual matchup.
The one factor that is in Gonzaga's favor is the improved defensive play of Elias Harris. Harris has the athleticism and strength to contain Jones, and during this winning streak, he has actually played very good individual post and perimeter defense. Either way, it will be quite interesting to see how Coach Few and the staff elect to try and slow down Jones.
more after the jump...
Q: Thoughts on the following statement? This game will not be close because GU finally has players who can guard the perimeter.
Zach Bell: It is no secret that Gonzaga fans have grown tired of seeing their beloved Zags get ripped apart from deep. In fact, few opponent's guards have dominated Gonzaga as much as Saint Mary's backcourt. Most recently, Mickey McConnell and Matt Dellavedova had all had huge nights against the Bulldogs. There is no doubt that this season we have seen more of a commitment to defense. With the arrival of Gary Bell who has slid into the role of defensive stopper and the contributions of Mike Hart and Guy Landry Edi, Gonzaga is much more of a force defensively. Against Saint Mary's, perimeter defense will be vital. As a team, SMC is shooting 37% from deep and their star guard, Matt Dellavedova is lighting it up at nearly 40%. While I have a hard time saying "this game will not be close", I do think that Gonzaga is as prepared to handle good three point shooting as they have ever been in recent memory. The key in my estimation will be Gonzaga's defensive gameplan. On the road in recent memory we have seen Mark Few and the staff get bullied by good three point shooting and be more reactive than proactive. It would be great to see the staff mix in some three-quarter court pressure defense to stifle the Gaels a bit and then attack them in half court defense. On the road in Moraga means that two or three consecutive three point baskets could snowball on an opponent and while Gonzaga has been better on the perimeter, it is important to remember that a lot of the guys that are being relied on are still very inexperienced.
Q: How much of a factor will the students be?
Max Mandel: This was one of my favorite questions submitted because I think it is an underrated subplot heading into this game. Gonzaga has only played two true road games this year, with one of those being a loss at Illinois, where it seemed the crowd had the younger players rattled at the end. The McKeon Pavilion is one of the most difficult atmospheres on the West Coast and the environment will only be elevated by the magnitude of the game. I will be very curious to see how Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr and Guy Landry will handle the environment and a couple of difficult calls that are sure to go against the newcomers.
With that said, you will be hard pressed to find a more poised duo of freshman guards in the country. Pangos has shown the ability to handle any defense thrown at him and also has demonstrated that he can play through tough stretches. I think GBJ will be the most interesting case, because he will certainly be matched up with Matthew Delladova. Delladova is an excellent player and has the type of physical game that can frustrate any opponent. However, if GBJ can slow down Tu Holloway in a must win game for Xavier, I have to believe that he can more than handle his own in Moraga.
Q: How efficient will Ryan Spangler be with the few minutes he gets? I say six rebounds and four points in ten minutes. What say you?
Zach Bell: While Ryan has only averaged about seven minutes per game and has not played in four games, I like the way he matches up in this game. Gaels' forward Rob Jones has always elevated his game against Gonzaga over the past few years and, while he only stands at 6'6'', Jones is a tough matchup. In years past, Elias Harris has struggled to stay with him so I would love to see Ryan gets some time on Thursday night as he has been an impact player on defense along with his rebounding prowess. Any points Ryan can provide will be bonus but I have to imagine that Few and Co. are working to fit Spangler into the gameplan. If I had to guess, I'd say Ryan logs around eight minutes in this one and pulls in 3-4 boards while playing great defense on Rob Jones.