The Gonzaga Bulldogs are back in action after a week of hopefully staring at a ton of film and tape and wondering how exactly they made it out of California without a conference loss.
After opening conference play with rather one-sided games against Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount, the road environment proved to be quite the different beast for the Zags. Gonzaga narrowly avoided an upset against Santa Clara and then needed overtime to bludgeon a win out of San Francisco.
The Portland Pilots had the exact opposite go down on their California swing last week. After opening conference play with a couple of wins, the Pilots were downed by both the Dons and the Broncos last week. A game in Spokane is probably exactly what the doctor didn't prescribe for them.
Meet the opponent
Portland Pilots, 8-9, KenPom #201
The Pilots are led by their backcourt of Alec Wintering and Bryce Pressley, and with them leading the charge, coach Eric Reveno has a squad that is constantly taking shots. Wintering leads the team with 17.1 points and Pressley adds 13.9. Between the two of them, the average nearly 23 field goal attempts per game. Then there is sophomore guard D'Marques Tyson hanging around in the mix. Between him and Pressley, the two average 11 three-point attempts per game.
All of this adds up to a team that likes to play at a quick pace. Portland has attempted the most field goals in the nation, has made the fourth most threes and has the fifth most three-point attempts.
The biggest issue for Portland is that although the outside shot is pretty good (37.8 percent as a team), the two point shot attempts leave a bit to be desired. The Pilots are a jump shooting team. For as many field goal attempts as they have, the Pilots don't draw too many shooting fouls.
Reveno runs as deep of a rotation as you can get. Xavier Hallinan is bottom on the team with 3.3 minutes per game, and after that, everyone averages nearly nine minutes on the court or more. Their adjusted tempo ranks No. 25 in the nation, and Portland will be looking to force Gonzaga to run.
What to watch out for
Gonzaga needs to be wary of the transition three.
According to Hoop Math, if Portland gets a rebound, there is over a 50 percent chance they will shoot a three within 10 seconds. If the opponent scores, there is over a 50 percent chance Portland will shoot a three within 10 seconds. The Pilots are always looking for that transition three, and Gonzaga needs to be well aware of each and every player running down the court. Portland isn't half bad on the outside shot as a team, hitting 38.4 percent of them. Gonzaga, for the most part, had been doing a solid job defending the three for much of the season. Then last week happened, where Santa Clara and San Francisco hit a combined 26 three pointers.
Can the Zags keep up?
The Pilots are going to do whatever they can to pick up the ball and run Gonzaga out of the building, as they should. Against San Francisco, the Zags basically ran a six-man rotation for a game ending in overtime. Gonzaga needs to make sure that it doesn't fall for Portland's trap and just keep their heads down and play basketball the way we play basketball. The Zags simply don't have enough players to run up and down the court relentlessly for 40 minutes. Our bigs can run with the best of ‘em, but the difference between the two teams is that Reveno can slot new players in when his players are tired. Mark Few doesn't have that luxury.
It would be nice to see something, anything, from Ryan Edwards.
The fourth Gonzaga big man is now the third Gonzaga big man with Przemek Karnowski. Since that news came down, however, Edwards has fallen off the map. After seeing the floor for 18 minutes against Saint Martin's, 11 minutes against Tennessee, and 13 minutes against Pepperdine, Edwards has stepped foot on the court for 18 minutes in his past three games. That number drops to nine minutes if you look at just last week.
We saw Kyle Wiltjer get a little beaten and bruised last week. We saw the same from Domantas Sabonis. The Bulldogs are essentially paper-thin at the frontcourt right now, even though that paper-thin frontcourt is still insanely good. When Wiltjer was hobbled to end the Santa Clara game, we saw Few slot in Kyle Dranginis at the four-spot over using Edwards. In the long term, it would be nice to see some production out of Edwards. For that to happen, he needs to cut down on his clunky fouls. He currently averages nearly two per game despite only averaging 7.6 minutes per game. Translated out to 40 minutes, Edwards would somehow commit 10.1 fouls per game.