The Gonzaga Bulldogs have one more tune up before departing for the Thanksgiving tradition of the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Zags host the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers out of Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Not to be confused with the other Saint Mary's, these St. Mary's have been in the NCAA Tournament more recently by virtue of winning the NEC championship. Things have started out a bit rough however, and it isn't like it is going to get any easier.
Mount St. Mary's opened with four-straight games on the road against the likes of Maryland, Ohio State, Washington, and now us. The life of a small team in the NCAA isn't pretty during the non-conference slate.
Meet the opponent
Mount St. Mary's, 0-3, KenPom #194
Coach Jamion Christian runs a pretty tight ship with this version of the Mountaineers. Mount St. Mary's is led by junior guard Byron Ashe and his 12.5 points per game. Ashe is backed by Lamont Robinson in the backcourt, who shares the scoring burden with an additional 10.5 points per game.
After that, it is a pretty steep drop off, as you would expect for these early season non-conference opponents. The Mountaineers appear to be a team full of a bunch of role players just needing someone to actually take over and lead them to victory.
Forwards Will Miller and Gregory Graves add in what they can down low, each averaging 8.5 points and a few rebounds per game. Toss in 7'0 senior center Taylor Danaher and there is your small school from the east coast.
What to watch out for
Turnovers, and hopefully less of them.
The Zags looked great in their opening win over Northern Arizona, for the most part. Turnovers definitely marred the game, and as many people were quick to point out, against better teams that won't work. And it is true. Gonzaga finished with 17 turnovers, which might be enough turnovers to even spell doom against the Washington Huskies next week.
The competition is going to get a steep upgrade soon, so the backcourt needs to figure its shit out fast and right. Josh Perkins was the most problematic, with his stellar six assists unfortunately negated by six turnovers. Karnowski also had the ball swatted out of his hands four times.
Can this team hit the three?
The question isn't can certain individuals hit the three, but whether or not the team can hit the three. Against Northern Arizona, it was pretty clunky, with the whole team shooting a mere 26.1 percent from beyond the arc. The Zags were ruthlessly efficient down low, just like last year. Unlike last year, the outside shot wasn't falling. Once again, against better teams, that one-sided of an approach won't work. Perkins, Silas Melson and Eric McClellan need to demonstrate that they are a consistent threat. Otherwise, no matter how good our big three our, defenses will collapse on them with no regard or worry about being punished.
Is the big three experiment over before it already begun?
The starting five on Wednesday didn't include Domantas Sabonis in the mix. He was quickly off the bench, as to be expected, and he was stellar, as also to be expected. Mark Few made a lot of noise about trotting out Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski and Sabonis all at the same time. However, the three didn't look to be completely in sync against Eastern Oregon or (if you were forced to take it away from Okinawa) against Pittsburgh either.
It is too early to call it dead in the water, but if Sabonis starts on the bench, all that early season conjecture about how great it would be or how the defense would do might have been for naught.
It is impossible to predict this early season matchups. Against Northern Arizona I thought I was being polite and left it at 20 points, but then the Zags decided a 40-point win was necessary. Mount St. Mary's has scored 54 and 56 points so far this season, so I'm going to stick with that.
Gonzaga 90, Mount St. Mary's 54