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Gonzaga vs. Arizona: Learning about the Wildcats with Arizona Desert Swarm

The best way to get to know your opponent is by talking with one of them.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have one of their best games on the schedule against the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday, Dec. 5.  It is one of the better home-and-home series Mark Few has landed on the schedule, so the news that it will continue on into 2020 is even better.

But back to the matter at hand. Games against Arizona have been, shall we say, frustrating for Gonzaga. The Zags haven't had the best of success against one of the consistently best teams on the west coast. Is this the year that everything changes? James Schlittenhart at Arizona Desert Swarm was kind enough to answer a few questions.

1) Relative to the upcoming game against Gonzaga, how big of an impact is Tarczewski's injury? How will Arizona be able to match up with the Gonzaga front court? Do you expect his injury to force Arizona into a different approach for the game?

It's 7 feet, 256 pounds, and four years' worth of impact. If you looked back at the last three years of Arizona basketball, Kaleb Tarczewski probably doesn't jump out at you from the stat sheets, but don't let that fool you. Those teams had the offensive side of the ball covered with Aaron Gordon, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and T.J. McConnell as the engine that made it go. Every one of those players is now in the NBA. Tarczewski may not have been a feature piece of those teams, but now that those key names are gone, he's arguably the most critical player on the current Arizona roster. Outside of Tarczewski and returning guard Gabe York, Arizona is mostly a collaboration of transfers, freshmen, and first-year starters that are struggling to make the transition from individuals to cohesive unit. Tarczewski's senior leadership, experience, and anticipated increased role on both offense and defense will be sorely missed.

Against Boise State, Arizona was forced to play small for most of the game, and I'd anticipate that will continue this weekend. Expect to see plenty of transfers Ryan Anderson and Mark Tollefson in the frontcourt, and a few minutes from big man Dusan Ristic underneath. Most of the teams Arizona has played thus far has been able to exploit defensive deficiencies in this frontcourt, and with Tarczewski out, I'm sure Gonzaga will have success following suit.

2) Arizona started out ranked pretty high and did fine in its first four games. Then there was that game against Santa Clara (aka Jared Brownridge) and the loss to Providence. Just how good of a team are the Wildcats this year, and what are the expectations for this team?

I'm fairly sure Jared Brownridge is still scoring on Arizona as we speak.

There seems to be an extreme divide amongst the Arizona faithful as to the potential of this team. Some will tell you that the loss to Providence signaled the collapse of all things basketball in Arizona, while others are still convinced this can be a deep tournament team. My stance is this: any kind of long-ranging prediction about this team, at this point, with the little sample size that we have, is an exercise in futility. We just don't know what this team is capable of, because none of them have played together before. Inexperience abounds across the roster, both as a function of youth and lack of time in the same locker room. For that reason, many are tempering their expectations for this team, and waiting until we have some real data to pull from before either panicking or betting the farm.

Gun to my head? I think this is a team that falls somewhere around 5th in the PAC12, grabs a 6 or 7 seed in the tournament, and is very happy with a Sweet 16 appearance. But I wouldn't be surprised to find that prediction absolutely demolished one way or another by season's end.

3) Last year, Arizona/GU was one of the better games of the season, and Arizona barely came away with a win. Now that the Wildcats are on entering Spokane, which player or players (outside or Ryan Anderson) needs to step up for Arizona to win this game?

That was indeed a great game between two incredibly evenly-matched teams. Interestingly, the entire starting lineup for Arizona in that game will not be seen on the court this year (Tarczewski with the injury, remaining four to the NBA), so the Wildcats will need to see breakout performances from a slew of fresh faces. Number one on that list would be Gabe York, who is considered the three-point specialist on the roster, but struggled mightily in the Wooden Legacy Tournament from the field. If York is hitting shots from the perimeter, this helps open the door for Arizona's slash-style offense. Guards Kadeem Allen, Allonzo Trier, and Parker Jackson-Cartwright have shown they can create scoring opportunities by penetrating, drawing contact, and using their athleticism to make tough shots inside. If Trier and Allen in particular can score, then Arizona has a chance to hang with Gonzaga.

4) Your prediction for the game!

We're pretty spoiled in Arizona right now. The Wildcats have non-conference wins in the past three years over Duke, Michigan, Florida, San Diego State, and Gonzaga. We're used to big wins in early games. Unfortunately, this isn't the same team from those years. There's still work to be done on both sides of the ball before I believe this unit will compete with teams like Gonzaga, especially on the road. I'll give Gonzaga the nod at home, 78 - 71.