There are a few angles we will try and break down, but the first one is the matchup between Domantas Sabonis and Jakob Poeltl, which so far might be one of the best individual grindouts we've seen paired up in the NCAA Tournament so far.
The Zags are coming off a stellar win over Seton Hall where they controlled the pace of the game from the get-go. Gonzaga played with more energy and hustle to topple a Seton Hall team that just couldn't muster any sort of offense in the game. The result? The Zags jumped more quite a few spots in Ken Pomeroy's rankings and proved what we all knew was somewhere in there: this team can compete.
Utah was in control against Fresno State the entire game and finished with a tidy 80-69 win. Four players scored in double-figures for the Utes, who still struggled a bit with 20 turnovers.
Meet the opponent
No. 3 Utah Utes, KenPom #28
Right off the bat, we need to talk about Jakob Poeltl. The sophomore center from Austria is one of the best big men in the country and he will be the toughest opponent Domantas Sabonis has faced all season. He leads the Utes with 17.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. He is a game changer on the offensive end and a horror to drive into the paint to on the defensive end.
His eFG% is 64.3, good for No. 16 in the country, and he is a monster at the rim. The Zags will need to do whatever it takes to keep him away from the rim, which is near impossible. Poeltl takes 85.9 percent of his shots at the rim, where he shoots 69.2 percent (according to Hoop-Math.com). Push him away (not sure how you do that), and that percentage on jumpers drops dramatically to 38.8 percent.
The Utes have an experienced backcourt led by senior Brandon Taylor and junior Lorenzo Bonam. Both are good passers and feisty defenders, averaging over three assists per game and a steal (or more) per game. Bonam is a decent jump shooter, but his three-point shot has struggled this year, where he takes 5.3 attempts per game and hits just 34.1 percent of them.
Utah likes to slow the tempo down. Their average 66.5 possessions per game, good for No. 295 in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy. They also are quite good at stuffing opposing passing lanes. Opponents average an assist on just 41.7 percent of their field goals, good for No. 4 in the nation.
What to watch out for
That lousy altitude.
There aren't any questions about it. If you play in Denver in any sport, altitude becomes a question. We saw video of Seton Hall players sucking down oxygen and I'm sure the Zags were doing that just as much. The main issue is that the Utes won't really have to deal with it that much.
Salt Lake City stands at an elevation of 4,226 feet. Granted, the Zags have been in Denver for a bit, but you can't force your body to adapt to elevation. It takes time, and with having such a short bench, hopefully the Zags are ready to battle it.
Amp up the defense.
Utah turned the ball over 20 times in their win over Fresno State. As a team, they average 12.4 turnovers per game. Gonzaga doesn't tend to force too many turnovers on defense, but they might want to try that out. There is the high possibility here for some easy transition points. That is important, because Utah doesn't like to run the ball that much. The Zags have demonstrated that they can play in more upbeat games and also real slow halfcourt sets. If they can knock Utah out of their rhythm, things will be looking nice.
Kyle Wiltjer needs to have a big game.
Nothing against Domantas Sabonis, but he has proven virtually day in and day out that he will respond to the competition. He'll also have his hands full guarding Jakob Poeltl. Wiltjer has a bit more freedom this game, and many of his shots looked just inches from falling in Seton Hall. If Wiltjer is able to turn in a performance we became accustomed to throughout the season, it will be hard for Utah to counter.
Just keep playing like we've been playing.
Honestly, the feeling right now is if Gonzaga keeps on trucking, they can make a real serious run into the tournament. Gonzaga showcased that it had the offense to take down teams when it ran through the WCC Tournament. Against Seton Hall, the Zags held their own against one of the better defenses in the nation, and in the process shut down one of the more hyped guards in the nation. We can't call it the Tom Izzo school of thought for the rest of the year since Michigan State already went down, but Gonzaga is peaking at the right time.
Time: 5:40 pm PT
TV: TNT (Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas, Jamie Erdahl)
Radio: 1510 KGA/Sirius XM/TuneIn App (Tom Hudson, Matt Santangelo)