So far, this road trip is producing about the results expected. Gonzaga easily handled LMU and then took everything that Pepperdine good dish out. Now, the Bulldogs face off against the Portland Pilots, before heading out to face SMU on Saturday.
In recent years, we could look past the game against Portland, because it was generally assured to be a win. That all changed in 2014 when the Pilots finally pulled off the upset at home. Now, although the playing field is hardly level, it is something to keep in mind.
Portland has a couple of nice gems in their WCC play, mainly wins over Pepperdine and BYU. Other than that, things have been a rough go for the Pilots. They are currently 5-8 in league play and have two separate losing streaks of four games. Portland is currently riding a two game winning streak, however, with a three point win over Pepperdine and a much easier win over LMU.
Meet the opponent
Portland Pilots, 11-15, KenPom #211
There are a few things that Portland does well, but unfortunately for coach Eric Reveno and company, more things that they don't do well. A lot of those things they don't do well stem from the defensive end. Portland is terrible against the offensive rebound and pretty wretched at defending the three point shot. Teams have an effective field goal percentage of 51.0 against the Pilots, good for No. 229 in the nation. All of this adds up to numbers that Ken Pomeroy shakes his head at: a defense rated No. 295 in the country.
Overall, Reveno's experiment hasn't worked out as well, but his Pilots are still a dangerous team, as the win over BYU showcases. Portland loves to push the tempo, and only one team in the country has attempted more field goal attempts than Portland. They don't take a lot of high quality shots, but that doesn't mean they don't have players who can suddenly turn it on.
Junior guard Alec Wintering leads the team with 19 points per game and senior guard Bryce Pressley chips in 13.6. Where the Pilots go for the throat is from the three-point line. They attempt and make more threes than any team in the conference, and have six players jacking up at least two three-point attempts per game.
What to watch out for
Keep an eye on every single person looking behind the three-point line.
Gonzaga beat Portland somewhat easily at the beginning of January, and a big reason for that is the Pilots went just 4-of-20 from beyond the arc. This is a recurring problem for Portland (they did it immediately after the Gonzaga loss by going 4-for-20 against San Diego). Portland is rather inconsistent from beyond the arc, but they can easily turn it on, as seen by shooting 15-of-31 against LMU. Luckily, the Zags statistically boast one of the best three-point defenses in all of college basketball. If Gonzaga can keep track of those lingering shooters, it goes a long way to a win.
Don't look past Portland to Saturday, but kind of look past Portland to Saturday.
All coaches say that, "We take this one game at a time," mantra, and to a certain extent I'm sure it is true. To the other extent, you are dealing with people ranging in age from 18-22, roughly, and realistically, you have to think that the GU players are aware of what is looming on Saturday. Due to their precarious position on the bubble, the Zags can ill afford another loss, and I'm sure that Few has let the players know that repeatedly.
That said, if Gonzaga can churn together one of those rare bouts of 40 minutes of great basketball, that will go a long way into helping the energy and positive spirits as the Zags head to Texas. If the Zags have another really frustrating win, one of those ones where the negatives basically outweigh the positives, things are going to be that much harder in Texas. And if the Zags lose? Well, we might just have to skip Texas entirely. Point being, momentum is a real thing in sports, and the Bulldogs have struggled to find it at times. Now would be one of those times to find it.