My, how things have changed in a year. Last year we were complaining about the Zags having to travel across the country to play a lower-seeded team in their backyard as they went to Pittsburgh to play West Virginia. This season, teams will be coming to Gonzaga's turf as they are the No. 1 seed in the West bracket. First up, is a stop in Salt Lake City where the Zags will take on the 16-seed Southern Jaguars. If they win that contest, they will face the winner of Pittsburgh and Wichita State both of which are very dangerous. For now, let's take a quick look at the Southern Jaguars...
You look awful familiar...
Oddly enough, Gonzaga has several recent connections with the small school based on Baton Rouge, LA. In fact, Gary Bell's father is very closely connected with Southern:
Man that's my Alma Mater! But blood is thicker than water! Go Zags!— Gary B. ☀ (@GBell37) March 17, 2013
Also, the Zags recently squared off with Southern in the first game of the 2010-11 season. The Zags dominated the, then woeful, Jaguars by a score of 117-72. Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk, Sam Dower, David Stockton, and Mike Hart all logged minutes in that contest. Dower, Harris, and Olynyk were all in double figures with Sam leading the way with 19 points in his first actual game as a Zag.
...but this is a very different Southern team
Obviously, Southern has improved since their 45 point loss to the Zags back in late 2010. Current head coach Roman Banks took over as the leading man after the 2010-11 season and has since had the team in a rapid ascent even though they have had a number of setbacks. The most prevalent was in the classroom as Southern was below APR standards and were ineligible for postseason play in the 2011-12 season.
Banks and the rest of the Jags stayed the course and went from four wins all the way to 17 even though any chance of postseason play was off the table. In 2012-13, their record is 23-9 and they are heading to the big dance to face off with the No. 1 team in the country. If Southern can hang on to Roman Banks, they are sure to be a player in the SWAC for many, many years to come.
So, what can we expect on Thursday?
Coach Banks and the Jaguars are a great story and have a extremely promising future in the SWAC. With that said (even though many people crave the 16-over-1 upset) I don't think this is the time for that to happen.
According to Ken Pomeroy, Southern is the second-worst team in the tournament in terms of offensive efficiency. They average 11 assists per game which is near-worst in division one basketball and, as you'd guess with the poor offensive efficiency ranking, they don't score the ball with much ease. They're 229th in 2P% but they are shooting 36% from beyond the arc which is in the top-75 in the country. Malcolm Miller is the main reason for that success as he is shooting 46% from deep.
Defensively is where the Jaguars have made a name for themselves, but I do qualify that statement with the fact that they have played one of the worst-ranked schedules in the country. KenPom has them as the 100th best team in the country in terms of defensive efficiency which is adjusted for their schedule. Looking at pure points, they are only allowing 57 points per game which is 12th best in the nation.
If Southern is going to make a run at this thing, it is going to have to come from the backcourt. The Jags are very thin (literally) in the frontcourt and are a poor rebounding team. On the perimeter, they have Miller who averages 16 points per game. Fellow guard Derrick Beltran also averages 16 points per game for Southern.
In the end, if Southern gets hot early from deep, they can absolutely hang around for a while but I just expect Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk to approach 50 combined points in this game. They will simply be too skilled and too big for the Jaguars to handle.