Theoretically, we should be talking about the upcoming Battle 4 Atlantis that has Gonzaga travelling all the way across the globe to take part in. Theoretically, we should be chatting and discussing all of the potential juicy, RPI boosting matchups that exist against the likes of UConn, Texas, Syracuse and Washington.
Wait a sec. Washington? Yes that Washington. The one across the mountain range. The one that is still convinced it is the best in every sport before a game is even played. The one Gonzaga is going to start playing next year.
Luckily, for those of us that love the games between Gonzaga and Washington, the Battle 4 Atlantis listened to my prayers to any and all basketball gods. Everything is getting jumpstarted a year earlier than we thought it would, and suddenly, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are looking at one of their best games of the season.
Meet the opponent
Washington Huskies, 3-0, KenPom #98
Let me tell you about the Washington Huskies. The Huskies are led by Nigel Williams-Goss at point, who could very well go pro if he decides to make the jump. NWG is an aggressive guard who enjoys taking his shots as close to the hoop as possible. His outside jumper isn't too great, but he has an ability to slash and cut his way to the hoop with the best of ‘em. Wait. What do you mean this is from last year? Wait. He transferred to Gonzaga? Seriously? Ok.
It is tough to write a preview about the Huskies because no one really knows what to expect from them. I'm not even sure Lorenzo Romar knows what to expect from his team. The Huskies had a shocking exodus of almost every single player from last year's roster. Only the comically named Andrew Andrews remains. Other than that, you are looking at one of the youngest teams in the NCAAs.
Andrew squared leads the team in points with 19.7 per game. Surprisingly, he is followed by freshman forward Marquese Chriss at 18.7 points per game. Chriss has shown a nice touch down low, hitting his shots 61.8 percent of the time. He exploded for 29 points against Mount St. Mary's and clearly has the ability to blow up again. Dejounte Murray, another hyped freshman, brings the rest of the scoring punch with 13.7 points per game.
Of course, for the Huskies, the big question is how the youth works. The Huskies gutted out a win against a good Texas team and followed it up with two laughers against Mount St. Mary's and Penn. The same could be said for Gonzaga, but the key difference is the youth here. The Huskies literally are one of the youngest teams in the nation, and all they have to rely on for any sort of steady hand in experience is Andrew Andrews. This team will be tested, and tested hard, by playing three games in a row against quality competition.
What to watch out for
Who has a prayer to stop the Gonzaga frontcourt?
Marquese Chriss is a good player. He is also 6'9, and that ties him as one of the tallest people on the team. Gonzaga can start three people taller than him. Gonzaga should just pound the ball down low and do it relentlessly. Give these Washington bigs a trial by fire and watch them go up in flames. Kyle Wiltjer had an off shooting night against Mount St. Mary's, but when he does, someone steps up. Last time it was Domantas Sabonis. This time it might be Przemek Karnowski. Washington only has one player to guard two of the bigs GU will throw out at a time. For Gonzaga to win easily, they need to head to the post.
Can Gonzaga hit an outside shot?
The above only works of course if Gonzaga can create some space by knocking down some long distance jumpers. UW has been quite good against the three-point shot this year, limiting opponents to just 21 percent. Silas Melson looks like he is getting more comfortable with his jumper, but the fact remains that the Gonzaga backcourt doesn't scare too much when they pull up for a three. Josh Perkins and Melson aren't ever going to be hitting nine threes like Kevin Pangos, but they need to be able to keep defenses honest. Hitting a few long distance shots will go a long way in doing that.
All of the guards have slotted into their roles, except for one small problem
Here is how your backcourt shakes out. Perkins is the point guard, McClellan is the starting defensive stopper, Melson is the scoring-potential shooting guard, Bryan Alberts is the three-point specialist, and Kyle Dranginis is there for spot duty. Missing anything?
It was woefully clear that during the Mount St. Mary's game the Gonzaga Bulldogs haven't quite figured out who brings the ball up the court when Perkins is resting up. McClellan doesn't have the ball control skills and Melson seems much more comfortable running out of the two-spot. Gonzaga needs to figure out who can be a reliable backup point guard, because as we saw against Mount St. Mary's minimal full-court pressure, the Zags got spooked pretty easily, pretty often.
This one is legitimately hard to figure out. Gonzaga by all accounts is the better team, but you cannot deny the potential from this young Washington team. Washington is going to push the pace, and Gonzaga is going to want to pound it out down low. Something has got to give, and because this is a Gonzaga blog and I will never predict the University of Washington winning at anything, the Huskies will lose this (and all forever and ever) round.
Gonzaga 80, Washington 13