The Gonzaga Bulldogs showcased its offense in blowout win after blowout win to open the season. The question that came out of those wins was whether or not Gonzaga could grind out a win against a more physical team. On Wednesday, Kevin Pangos and Kyle Wiljter did just that, helping lead the Bulldogs over the Georgia Bulldogs to advance to the NIT Preseason Tipoff championship.
In a game that was completely marred by the officials re-enacting Beethoven's fifth symphony with a chorus of whistles, Wiltjer stepped up to lead the Zags in a big way with 32 points. Pangos added 22 points and Wesley relentlessly attacked the rim, picking up 12 along the way. The Bulldogs turned the ball over just nine times and shot a season best 91 percent from the free throw line, hitting 32-of-35.
Of course, not everything went well. Josh Perkins is out indefinitely with a broken jaw after Kenny Gaines did his best Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon re-enactment. That is a big blow, not so much for the points but of the solid job Perkins was doing spelling Pangos and Bell.
St. John's overcame a nine-point deficit to Minnesota and outpaced the Gophers in the second-half to advance to the championship game. D'Angelo Harrison led the Red Storm with 19 points and Rysheed Jordan chipped in 18.
Meet the opponent
St. John's Red Storm, 4-0, KenPom #42
The St. John's way is a focus on defense. This season, through four games, the Red Storm are No. 15 in defense according to KenPom's ratings. They do that by getting rid of the open three. Minnesota went 2-of-13 from beyond the arc against St. John's, and on the season the Red Storm are holding opponents to 33 percent from behind the arc.
The pressure intensifies the closer you get to the basket. Opponents are shooting just 35 percent for two pointers, good for eighth best in the country. St. John's doesn't overcommit on defense and force turnovers. Instead, they are in your face for the entirety of the game.
The Red Storm are led offensively by senior guard D'Angelo Harrison, who leads the team in points (18.5) and rebounds (10.0) per game. He is backed up on the wing by Sir'Dominic Pointer, who averages 11.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. This is a veteran team, with four seniors receiving legitimate minutes. There is also a balanced injection of youth, led by sophomore guard Rysheed Jordan and his 17.5 points per game.
As good as the Red Storm is on defense, its offense (like it has most years) lags behind a bit. This season it is no different. St. John's is one of the worst three point shooting teams in the nation, hitting just 22.6 percent (good for No. 345). Things aren't too great from the free throw line either, where the Red Storm his 69 percent as a team.
What to watch out for
Will we see Silas Melson for the first time this year?
The Bulldogs are in a bit of a conundrum after Perkins went down with an injury. Perkins mouth is going to be wired shut, for a while. If Perkins is out long enough, he is a prime nominee for a medical redshirt. Realistically, Melson's decision to red shirt was because when Eric McClellan arrived, there wouldn't be enough minutes to go around. Now, there are minutes to go around.
Some people are calling on Mark Few to not "waste" a year of eligibility with Melson, but the fact of the matter is that Perkins was averaging 20 minutes per game. Pangos can play forever if he needs to, and honestly with how well he is playing right now he should, but without Perkins, the Bulldogs don't really have a decent guard left on the bench. Kyle Dranginis' game over his collegiate career has molded more from a guard to a guard/forward. Perkins was the true guard to help out in the backcourt and Gonzaga will need a replacement for that.
How does Gonzaga counter St. John's defense?
For the first time all season, Gonzaga struggled to score at will. That will most likely be the case again tonight, and it will be interesting to see if the Bulldogs learn from their struggles against Georgia. Georgia was aggressive on defense, and Gonzaga went through a few painful lapses in offensive ingenuity that allowed Georgia to hang around the game. It didn't help that the Bulldogs struggled to adapt to the whistle happy referees with Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis spending much of the game on the bench because of fouls. Gonzaga has been excellent this season at making the extra pass, but St. John's will blanket each player. Gonzaga will have to be more creative on offense to get the win.
Can Gonzaga silence the crowd?
Technically, the schedule will put it as a game in a neutral site. But St. John's, as a school in New York City, play plenty of games in Madison Square Garden. This crowd, what exists of it, should be pretty ferociously cheering for the Red Storm. Gonzaga hasn't played a true road game this season, so this will be a good test with the upcoming games against Arizona and UCLA in December.
Time: 4 p.m. PT
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