Did you hear the news? According to Ken Pomeroy's predictive ratings, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are expected to lose only one game on their schedule. ONE GAME.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm as hyped as the next guy about the 2015-16 Gonzaga Bulldogs, but this schedule isn't exactly a cake walk, and squeaking out with just one loss seems a bit, shall we say, optimistic?
For starters, the Bulldogs have never lost merely one game. They've come close, however. Last season, the Bulldogs had their best year, but still lost a whopping two games. The schedule is also a bit harder this season, and only losing two games during the regular season isn't something teams just wake up and decide to do one frosty November morning.
So, excluding what battles might come from the Battle 4 Atlantis, let's take a look at the games we might be sweating a bit through.
Friday, Nov. 13 vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
Yeah, I went there -- first game! The Panthers are a hard as nails team coached by Jamie Dixon, and for that reason alone you can't necessarily ever count them out. Pitt opens up the year ranked No. 30 by Ken Pomeroy, and the genetic makeup of the team might mean the three-headed hydra of Wiltjer/Sabonis/Karnowski has to wait another night before surfacing.
Jamel Artis and Michael Young are both aggressive, albeit undersized, forwards. Senior point guard James Robinson is one of the better passing guards in the ACC and he helps spread the ball to everyone for the Panthers. Last season, the Panthers ranked No. 14 in the nation in assists as a team.
The main reason this is a trap game is because it is Gonzaga opening up their entire season, question marks and all, all the way in Okinawa, against what will most likely be a tournament team. The Zags are the better team here, no doubt, but sometimes, the better team doesn't always win.
Saturday, Dec. 5 vs. Arizona Wildcats
If there is any team that matches up with the Gonzaga Bulldogs, it has to be what is arguably either the second or third-best team in the west. The Wildcats are pretty ridiculously deep as a team, and the front line of Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarzewski matches up with the Zags as well as anyone in the nation. Plus, they have some transfer by the name of Mark Tollefsen to create some havoc in the exact same way everyone talks about Kyle Wiltjer will.
The Wildcats did lose their heart and soul of the previous two seasons in T.J. McConnell. In a lot of ways, the Wildcats are rather similar to the Zags. A front court that couldn't have more explanation points on it and a backcourt that needs to live up to expectations for it all to work. The Zags have the edge because this game is in Spokane, and they are going to need all of that edge in this game.
Saturday, Feb. 6 @ Pepperdine Waves
My guess is that the Bulldogs roll through the WCC unscathed. But at the same time, I am well aware of the target on the backs of our jerseys the size of Jupiter during WCC play. Many of these teams, outside of BYU, play for the sole purpose of ruining our nights, and every year, one or two games are closer than they should get. On the road against Pepperdine is that game.
The main reason to watch out for Pepperdine this year is easy: this is a team that is returning literally everyone and almost, narrowly won in both regular season WCC games last season. Pepperdine was also one of the best defensive teams in the WCC last season, and Stacy Davis, in any other year, would be on the tips of everyone's tongues as WCC Player of the Year.
Pepperdine isn't particularly good offensively, but they make up for that fact by slowing the game down to their pace. To beat Pepperdine, you have to make sure you don't shoot yourself in the foot and fall prey to their game. Pepperdine plays physical ball, and at home they will be bullies. At home, they will also have a matchbox gym full of berserk and rabid Malibu denizens screaming for blood.
Logic says this is the best Zags team ever, but logic tells my brain that every year. The fact of the matter is that this team has plenty of potential pitfalls on the schedule, including the road game against SMU (not mentioned because KenPom says that is the ONE game we will lose). The schedule is tough enough to help prepare the team for a deep run in March, if they are ready. It is also tough enough to justify a high seed in the NCAA Tournament if all goes according to plan.