The Gonzaga Bulldogs' road swing to open conference play continues as the Zags head to the cozy confines of the Jenny Craig Pavilion to take on the San Diego Toreros on Monday.
Gonzaga got its toughest test out of the way with a conference-opening win on the road against BYU. Kyle WIltjer led all scorers with 24 points but it was a clutch shooting performance from Kevin Pangos that put a feisty BYU squad away.
San Diego surprisingly dropped its home opener against Portland by three points, 61-58. Johnny Dee, the Toreros leading scorer, struggled, scoring 11 points off of 5-of-15 shooting.
On paper, this game shouldn't be much of an issue. The Bulldogs have owned Billy Grier's squad since he headed down south, with Gonzaga winning 14 of the past 16 games. Lately, however, it hasn't been as lopsided as that record suggests. Gonzaga lost, 69-66, in its last visit to San Diego and in 2013 barely squeaked away with a two-point win.
If there was a potential trap game on the conference schedule, this is it.
Meet the opponent
San Diego Toreros, 7-6, KenPom #93
If you want to talk best back courts in the conference, a lot of people act like that conversation begins and ends with Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell. But San Diego has its own pair of senior guards and both of them are two of the better guards in the conference. Point guard Christopher Anderson leads the WCC in assists per game (and is fourth in the nation) with 7.2. He is also one of the more aggressive defenders in the league, and currently is second in the conference with 21 steals.
Then there is his partner in crime Johnny Dee. Dee is one of the more prolific three-point shooters in the country. He has attempted 102 threes, good for tenth in the nation, and he hits them at a pretty good 44 percent clip. Dee is a high volume shooter who has turned a corner this year by hitting more shots and has an eFG of 61.4 percent.
The offense drops fast after that for the Toreros and that is why Grier has his team focus on defense. San Diego is the toughest defense the Zags will face in conference play. They are quick and force a lot of turnovers. Don't let San Diego's record deceive you, the Toreros have hung with Xavier, San Diego State and UCLA much longer than anyone thought they should.
They also have a game changer in the post, and that might be the only time I type this during WCC play. Junior center Jito Kok isn't the tallest of men, standing at 6'9. However, Kok is one of the conference's best shot blockers, and he is absolutely running away with that crown this year. Kok averages 2.8 blocks per game, totaling 34 so far this season. Marin Mornar of LMU comes in second with 20 blocks.
The four factors
Stats courtesy of Ken Pomeroy's site.
|eFG%||58.2 (8)||52.4 (55)|
|TO%||17.0 (36)||19.6 (151)|
|OR%||38.9 (17)||30.5 (196)|
|FTR||35.1 (232)||40.5 (115)|
What to watch out for
How does Gonzaga adjust to the tempo?
Last season, the Toreros were one of the slowest playing teams in the nation. This year, San Diego has picked up the pace a bit, but the game plan for when San Diego has kept it close has been to force Gonzaga to slow down. Gonzaga just got done running and gunning it with BYU, who play one of the more up-tempo styles in the nation. Gonzaga did a good job of forcing BYU to adapt, but when BYU got going that is when the game got close.
Likewise, Gonzaga needs to just play its game and ignore what San Diego is trying to force them to do. San Diego will be a good primer for a lot of WCC teams, who have slowed the pace down this year and are grinding out games with half court offense.
How does San Diego deal with Gonzaga's height?
Gonzaga has a severe advantage in this category across the board. Dee stands at 6' even. Anderson is a bit dimunitive at 5'7. Down low, there isn't a single player who can deal with the height of Przemek Karnowski, Domantas Sabonis or Kyle Wiltjer. Gonzaga should shovel the ball down low, but also needs to remain wary of the double team that comes in. Both Karnowski and Sabonis have struggled with recognizing the pressure until it is too late the past couple of games. Otherwise, Gonzaga's outside shooters are too good for San Diego to leave open. At the same time, San Diego can't realistically expect Kok or Thomas Jacobs to hold their own all game.
Game time: 8 p.m. PT
TV: KHQ/Root Sports
Radio: AM 1510 KGA (Spokane), AM 880 KIXI (Seattle), AM 1360 KUIK (Portland)