All signs point up for the Gonzaga Bulldogs right now and a game on Saturday against St. Thomas Aquinas College should further that feeling. It is the second opening round game of the NIT Season Tip-Off before the Zags head to New York City and Madison Square Garden for the big Thanksgiving show.
The game against Saint Joseph's was a total laugher as the Bulldogs sent the Hawks to one of the worst losses in their school's history. The Bulldogs limited the Hawks to 42 points, the second-lowest total in Saint Joseph's history. Saint Joseph's was limited to 10 points in the first half and hit only 3-of-28 field goal attempts. They eventually got things "on track" to put 32 points on the board in the second half, but it was far too few to keep up with Gonzaga's output.
Gary Bell Jr. led the Zags with 18 points as the Gonzaga offense once again quickly outpaced its opponent. The Gonzaga defense held the line, making it quite easy to say if Gonzaga keeps playing like this, they can beat anyone. St. Thomas Aquinas is anyone.
With that said, it is unfortunate timing for St. Thomas Aquinas College to show up in Spokane. Although you shouldn't expect victories over 50 points to be a common occurrence, it is hard to imagine that this game remains remotely competitive. The Bulldogs should be flying off to New York City next week with an undefeated record.
Meet the opponent
St. Thomas Aquinas Spartans, 0-2 (D-II)
The fact of the matters it that the Spartans are a D-II school, and therefore it is a lot harder to find out information on them. So with that in mind, I'm not going to expound as it I know anything about the school -- because I don't. What I do know, we can glean from previous box scores and lineups.
The Spartans run a nine man rotation led by junior guard Matthew Lee. He is the team's leading scorer, averaging 17.5 points per game. Much of that offense comes from inside the three point line. In fact, the team overall isn't the biggest threat from outside, although they do take a fair amount of attempts. After that freshman guard Shaquille McFarlane and sophomore guard Chaz Walter provide the rest of the firepower.
As a team, the Spartans average just 23 rebounds per game, and much of this has to do with the fact that they are painfully small. Freshman center Sam Berlin tops out the squad at 6'10, but he usually only sees the court for half the game. Like our freshman center often times was, Berlin is often limited by foul trouble. The Bulldogs have such a severe height advantage, this game is looking like it will be rather unfair.
What to watch out for
Can the Bulldogs keep up?
Dumb question -- of course they can! The Spartans play a quick paced brand of basketball, averaging 75.15 possessions per game. Gonzaga is averaging around 69 possessions per game at the moment, so this game should be wildly entertaining. Previous Gonzaga squads have always been able to run the length of the floor for 40 minutes straight. This season, the Bulldogs look a bit more comfortable in the half court set, and it will be interesting to see who loves to run down the court.
Will Kevin Pangos turnover the ball?
I don't believe in the no-hitter jinx, so I have no qualms bringing this up. Pangos hasn't turned over the ball yet. He is currently one of 26 guards to average at least 25 minutes per game and not turn the ball over yet. Of those 26, he has played the third most minutes and of those 26 he has the most assists by an avalanche. Pangos is playing out of his mind right now, and when your point guard plays out of his mind, the rest of the team gets a huge boost in efficiency.
How big of a blowout will this end up?
Gonzaga has won its three games by 46, 16 and 52 points. SMU, the best of the bunch, was the closest. Other than that, the games have been total blowouts. Now, after dropping 52 points on a D-I school like it was no big deal, it is easy to think well man, the Bulldogs will probably win this game by 100 now. The thing is, to win by 50 points needs two things: a) hit your shots; b) opponent miss a lot of their shots. That happened in both the Sacramento State and Saint Joseph's games. The tough thing is figuring out if part of this was those two teams having a bad day, or if Gonzaga really is that good. I've been slowly an surely lowering myself into the piping hot bathtub of that juice, so I'm guessing this game isn't going to be close by any stretch of the word.
Time: 6 p.m. PT
TV: KHQ, ROOT Sports
Radio: AM 1510 KGA (Spokane), AM 880 KIXI (Seattle), AM 1360 KUIK (Portland)