At least we have this one game.
Gonzaga just got over a demoralizing loss at home to Arizona, and lo, behold on the horizon, there is UCLA.
That UCLA team that lost to Monmouth and had a near miss at home to Cal Poly? Yup. That UCLA. That same UCLA that just upended the no longer No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats.
I'm not sure I want to want the Zags try and rebound from the loss to Arizona against a team that is playing some of the best basketball in its life. I'd prefer to have a game to try and work out the cobwebs. I'd prefer to have a game where everyone piles into the clown car together, figuring best how to work out and to fit in. I'd prefer to have this game against Montana.
At least we have this one game against Montana.
Meet the opponent
Montana Grizzlies, 3-3, KenPom #154
Montana pretty much has four players to look out for. Martin Breunig, Walter Wright, Michael Oguine and Brandon Gfeller. There are other people on this team, a few kids from Billings as well as other Montana towns, but realistically, they don't make much of an impact.
The Grizzlies do get quite a bit of impact out of Breunig. The senior forward averages 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Bruenig is shooting about as well as anyone in the nation right now, hitting 71.4 percent of his shots. He is fifth in the nation in eFG% and ninth in the nation with his true shooting percentage.
The outside threat (if you can call him that) is Gfeller. In fact, if the Zags ever see Gfeller even attempt a two-point shot, they should let him just fire away. The junior from Colfax, Washington, has shot 1-of-4 from inside the arc. Outside the arc, he is 12-for-40. That stat lends itself to one of Montana's greatest struggles as a team--they are 347th in the nation in three-point percentage.
That will lend itself nicely to GU's favor. Gonzaga has quite quietly amongst all of our screaming over the weekend as one of the best teams against the three-point shot. Gonzaga opponents hit just 22.9 percent of their outside shots, and Gonzaga has given up a NCAA least 25 threes.
Meanwhile, even if Przemek Karnowski is still on the bench, the Zags height will be a huge advantage over the Grizzlies. Montana has the 6'10 Bryden Boehning, and that is it. Boehning has also only see the court for 42 minutes this season. The height drop off starts steep and fast. Gonzaga should be able to exploit that rather easily.
What to watch out for
How does this team respond to the Arizona loss?
That is the big one. All words and interviews from the players after the loss made it clear they were well aware how bad it stung. Wiltjer said it is on the team, Perkins said it was on him. Either way, all of those words mean nothing if the Zags can't respond properly. This team is definitely going to take its bumps along the course of the season, so generally, it won't be the loss that is important, but how the team performs after that game.
Can the guards start to make shots?
The tell-tale sign of the Arizona game was the first half, where Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis had scored 32 of the Zags 38 points. On one hand, the two were feeling it and Arizona had no answer. On the other hand, when Arizona had the answer, Gonzaga guards were left in the dust. There is a fine balance between feeding the hot hand and still taking the open shot when you see it. Gonzaga can't play games and expect to win when their offensive approach becomes so one-dimensional. Much of this is on the guards and building their confidence to hit shots. We've seen from Josh Perkins and Silas Melson that both have the ability to nail jumpers, we just need to see that day in and day out.
It might be time to move Josh Perkins off of point for a game.
Perkins needs a confidence booster, both in his ability to run the ball and in his ability to make shots. The one way the Zags can help is by moving Perkins off the point. Eric McClellan hasn't been as much of a trainwreck as it seemed like he would as a backup PG, and Kyle Dranginis is more than capable of bringing the ball up the floor. The Zags will continually have to work with Perkins to manage his turnovers and rash decisions, but they can give him a big boost on his offensive end by letting him work on his shot off the ball. Any boost the Gonzaga coaching staff can give to the young guard will hopefully pay huge dividends down the road.
The Bulldogs know that loss hurt. Hell, they were the ones in the basketball game. I've never doubted the fire of the team and their want to win. I've just sometimes doubted their ability to execute that win. Against Montana, I'm not too concerned. Even if Przemek Karnowski sits another game, the Zags will still have a huge height advantage down low. Montana would be smart to pressure our guards, but I think the Zags are willing to step up to the challenge.
Gonzaga 72, Montana 60