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Gonzaga vs. Georgia game preview: NIT Preseason Tipoff tournament really begins

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The Bulldogs have their first game away from the friendly confines of home.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have pretty much established themselves as the best team on the west coast -- at least in the eyes of those in the west coast. Gonzaga has played four games at home and won each game by a definitive margin, including two consecutive 50 plus point victories.

Now, for the first time this season, the Bulldogs are away from home and getting a serious test against the other Bulldogs from Georgia. As nice as it has been to watch Gonzaga crush the likes of the SMU Mustangs and Saint Joseph Hawks, it'll be even better to get a gauge on how well this team preforms away from home. The Bulldogs x2 are part of the NIT Preseason Tipoff tournament, which, if this year is any indication, might not be around for too much longer because of how hard it was to get teams to play.

Either way, Gonzaga has a couple of big games on the docket. Assuming everything goes according to plan, the Bulldogs will play Georgia on Wednesday and then Minnesota on Friday. Those are some nice resume builders. Everything has to go according to plan first, which means Gonzaga needs to win on Wednesday to draw the hopefully marquee matchup on Friday.

Meet the opponent

Georgia Bulldogs, 3-1, KenPom #59

First off, bear with me, these stats don't include Georgia's win over Florida Atlantic because Sports Reference hadn't imported the data yet, and I'll be gone for work much of this week. All stats in here are just through Georgia's first three games.

The Georgia Bulldogs are basically a four-man team. Between senior forwards Nemanja Djurisic and Marcus Thornton and junior guards Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann, you have the entire offense. The Bulldogs average 78.3 points per game so far and those four account for 53 of them. Coach Mark Fox runs a tight ship at Georgia. He knows who can contribute, and with that in mind, the Bulldogs basically run a six-man rotation with Yante Maten and Kenny Paul Geno getting the cleanup minutes.

It has worked so far, but how well it continues to work we shall see. The Bulldogs don't do anything necessarily spectacularly. They get some good shots inside the arc, but God forbid the ball lands in the hands behind the three-point line. Georgia collectively shoots 27.5 percent from beyond the arc, which is good for No. 285 in the nation. The free-throw percentage isn't that great either, hitting just 68.5 percent from the charity stripe.

This isn't the most offensively efficient team, but on defense, the Bulldogs make up for whatever is lacking. Opponents are hitting under 40 percent of their field goals against Georgia. Outside of Georgia Tech (who Georgia lost too), those opponents are the likes of Stony Brook, Troy and Florida Atlantic - not exactly top quality teams.

What to watch out for

Do we see home Kevin Pangos, or road Kevin Pangos?

We all know it. Kevin Pangos, for as good as he can be, has been a maddeningly inconsistent player on the road. This isn't the first "road" game of the year thanks to the neutral asterisk that appears in the schedule. For all intents and purposes, it is the first road game, and therefore all eyes will be on Pangos. Pangos, to his credit, has been flat out insane to start the year. By virtue of not having to do jack against St. Thomas Aquinas, Pangos is the team's sixth leading scorer at the moment. Ignore that fact though, because this is Pangos' team. He is averaging 5.8 assists per game and still hasn't turned the ball over while shooting 67 percent from the field.

Pangos is nuts right now and because of that Gonzaga is also nuts right now. Our Bulldogs will come crashing back down to Earth like the third-hour of Interstellar if Pangos pulls one of his disappearing acts. The year has been going great so far, but this is one of the big unanswered questions.

Was St. Thomas Aquinas Angel Nunez's coming out party?

I know I said it didn't matter because it was a D-II opponent, but Angel Nunez was fantastic against St. Thomas Aquinas. He really looked like he has figured out his role in the team and it is to be the superior athlete while on the court. That involves constantly running, taking pull up threes and wildly blocking three point attempts like it is no big deal.

That said, for the most part, Nunez is still getting garbage time minutes with the B squad. He has the skills to break into the rotation in a meaningful way, but it'll be a tough road to climb. Byron Wesley has been stellar as the wing the Zags haven't had and the Gonzaga front court is pretty solidly set at the moment. Still, Nunez throws in speed and length the Zags don't have in other players, and if he keeps playing like he did on Saturday he'll easily see more minutes.

Can the Zags sustainably play at this level?

Gonzaga is currently ranked No. 9 in KenPom, coming in with a No. 12 ranked offense and a No. 16 ranked defense. Looking at the rankings, they deserve to be up there. The question is if this is what the norm is for Gonzaga. I keep waiting them to regress a bit, but with each new victory the team is leaving less and less to nitpick about. A game not at home will be the first good indicator, but if Gonzaga rattles off another drubbing at the hands of a hapless opponent, I'd say its one step closer to joining in on that unnecessary (but oh so delightful) Final Four talk.


Game info:

Time: 6:30 p.m. PT

TV: ESPN2

Online: WatchESPN

Radio: AM 1510 KGA (Spokane), AM 880 KIXI (Seattle), AM 1360 KUIK (Portland)