It is crazy to think how good Gonzaga has had it. Right now, the team is pretty good, but it is also pretty frustrating. What we are going through this season is essentially what every other program goes through every three or four years. For Zagnation, this feeling doesn't happen as often.
New Year's Even was almost a completely horrible day. In the grand scheme of things, it ended up merely being a terrible day. Przemek Karnowski went down for the rest of the season with surgery on his back. Sometimes, in all of this basketball fandom, we forget that there are real humans playing this game, and these humans are college kids.
The Zags then narrowly escaped Santa Clara with a win, thanks to a career night from Josh Perkins. Conference play is not going to be easy this season, but for a team without too many high profile wins on its resume, the Zags need to avoid as many speed bumps as possible.
And that is what is staring them in the face right now: San Francisco's tiny matchbox court that has sent plenty of good Gonzaga teams stumbling back to Spokane with a loss. Time to buckle in.
Meet the opponent
San Francisco Dons, 8-5, KenPom #243
The Dons have one of the higher scoring backcourts in the conference, led by sophomore Devin Watson and senior Tim Derksen. Watson leads the team with 19.1 points per game and Derksen chips in 14.4 points. Both players are going to keep the Gonzaga defenders on their toes, as they can each score from anywhere on the court, especially beyond the arc.
It is a rarity that opposing teams can rain down a hailstorm of threes, but Santa Clara did exactly that on Thursday. The Dons have been on a tear since starting conference play, shooting 43.5 percent as a team from beyond the arc. Derksen, especially, is active all over the court, also grabbing 6.9 rebounds per game to lead the team.
The Zags will also need to keep an eye out for Uche Ofoegbu. The junior winger originally started out at SMU, but transferred to USF after his freshman year (a slight oddity considering it seemed there for awhile that most players transferred OUT of San Francisco). He has been stellar in his past four games, averaging 13.75 points and seven rebounds per game, shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor in the process.
Head coach Rex Waters runs a pretty deep rotation for the Dons, which 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game. The Zags better be in good condition, with four players playing 30 minutes against Santa Clara.
What to watch out for
Ryan Edwards needs to step up to the plate.
Edwards only played for five minutes on Thursday. Obviously, this is of Few's choosing. But with Karnowski out for the season, the Zags frontcourt isn't the deepest thing on the planet. Against Santa Clara, Few ended up slotting in Kyle Dranginis at the four spot and the Zags went with a four guard lineup ala a couple seasons ago.
Edwards has shown some promise, but he also hasn't gotten the minutes to really show consistently what he can do. If we can string together a couple of solid games for Edwards, that would go a long way in helping ease some of the burden off of our frontcourt. This is especially important considering that there will be times, whether it is foul trouble from Domas or a foot injury from Wiltjer, that the Zags need another big body in there.
Hunker down on the perimeter defense again.
Three-point defense has been a high point for the Zags for much of this season. There have been a couple of hiccups along the way, and two of those games have come in their past four. Tennessee shot 47.6 percent from three and Santa Clara hit 50 percent of their attempts. The Zags three-point shooting has definitely been better in the past two games, but as of now, this doesn't appear to be a team that can win a game of attrition by trading baskets. That said...
Zags can't be afraid of the outside shot in this one.
San Francisco's perimeter defense isn't very good at all. Opposing team's hit 38 percent of their outside shots, good for No. 296 in the nation. It would be excellent to see Kyle Dranginis and Silas Melson also knock down a few of these outside jumpers to get their confidence going.