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Gonzaga vs. San Diego State game preview: The first big contest of the season

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The game is part of the ESPN Tip-off Marathon.

NCAA Basketball: San Diego at San Diego State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

After a tune up win against Utah Valley, the Gonzaga Bulldogs take on the San Diego State Aztecs for the Zags’ first test of the season on Monday, at 9:00 pm PT.

Things looked good across the board for the Zags in the first game of the season. Silas Melson led the Zags with 17 points, Jordan Mathews added 16, and Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski chipped in 14.

Such lofty scoring numbers will be harder to come by against the Aztecs, however. So buckle in for a grind-out game.

Meet the opponent

San Diego State Aztecs, 1-0, KenPom #49

This is the third meeting between the two schools, with the last game coming in 2010. San Diego State was ranked in the top 25 for the first-time in school history and was able to pull a 79-76 upset over a No. 11 Zags squad.

For San Diego State, things still haven’t really changed too much. The Aztecs are a defensively minded squad that will do whatever it takes to barely squeak out a win. Take their season opening victory over the San Diego Toreros, a 69-59 affair. Not exactly a huge statement made against a very bad team. The Toreros led 31-22 at one point in the game before the Aztecs clamped down and ran away with it.

This is a squad with good players nonetheless. The Aztecs lost some senior leadership last year and a good chunk of their scoring. But guard Jeremy Hemsley has a stellar knack for scoring, and forward Malik Pope is as athletic of a player as the Zags will see in the non-conference (if his knee is healthy enough to play). Junior guard Trey Kell also dropped 23 points on the Toreros, so they can definitely score.

What to watch out for

Josh Perkins is back.

We finally get to see how Josh Perkins and Nigel Williams-Goss will operate as a backcourt unit. A lot of teams, especially ones making deep runs in the NCAA Tournament, have often employed backcourts consisting of two point guards. There isn’t a soul out there that is too worried about how Williams-Goss will do, but it will be interesting to see how Perkins preforms in his role off the ball.

It will also be interesting to see how well he adjusts to a slightly different role if Melson’s play continues. Melson was stellar in the opener against Utah Valley, and if that continues it will be tough to keep him on the bench (although there are plenty of minutes to go around in the backcourt).

Can the Zags adjust to the tempo?

This is really going to be the biggest question of the night. Last season, the Aztecs were one of the slower teams in the universe, and that will never change as long as Steve Fisher is the head coach. The Zags have never been an abnormally aggressive team as far as pace goes, but they have also tended to struggle against teams that lock it in for a bare knuckle boxing match (see losses to Syracuse/Tony Bennett-coached WSU teams).

This is a big question mark for the coaching staff. The Zags are superior offensively, to an embarrassing degree, over San Diego State. But often times it seems like Mark Few gets a bit flummoxed by defensive-minded coaches. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Zags hop out to a big lead, and then see the Aztecs close it down a bit. The real question will be how Few and company responds to their opponent’s adjustments, because that is usually where it all seems to be lacking.

Game info

  • Time: 9:00 pm PT
  • TV: ESPN2
  • Radio: Gonzaga IMG Network
  • Online: WatchESPN