The day is finally here. The Saint Mary’s Gaels and the Gonzaga Bulldogs face off in their first of two high-profile West Coast Conference games. The Gaels are a top-25 team, but the Zags are a top-5 team.
The Zags are coming off a complete win over LMU, where six different players scored in double figures. The Lions hung with the Zags for the first 10 minutes, but after that, it was all Gonzaga in a rather listless MAC.
Saint Mary’s absolutely obliterated Portland, 74-33, on Thursday. Calvin Hermanson led all scorers with 27 points and the Saint Mary’s defense absolutely smothered Portland, only allowing 0.56 points per possession. The score at halftime? 37-9. The score through 30 minutes? 58-14. Saint Mary’s has to be feeling good, and no better place to get your ego checked than Spokane.
Meet the opponent
Saint Mary’s Gaels, 15-1, KenPom 13
The Gaels return every single player from their squad last year that gave the Bulldogs fits. Granted, this time around, Gonzaga won’t be abused by an endless display of pick and rolls, but Saint Mary’s is still a fantastically efficient offensive machine.
The Saint Mary’s begins with either Joe Rahon or Emmett Naar, and the Zags guards will have their hands full keeping those two in check. Both Rahon and Naar have amazing court vision, with each player nearly averaging six assists per game. Both players also see a lot of minutes and are good ball handlers. Their play is largely the reason why Saint Mary’s ranks No. 7 in assists to field goal made ratio.
The offense generally ends with Jock Landale. Say what you will about inferior competition, but Landale is probably one of the top five players in the conference. He is nearly averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds per game, and is ranked No. 2 OVERALL in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive rating markings for players. He is one of the most efficient players in the conference, and the Zags got a taste of that on their Senior Night loss to Saint Mary’s last season.
The Gaels do a lot of things right, starting with shooting the ball. Their eFG% as a team is 58.5, good for fourth-best in the nation. Their defense completely eliminates the offensive rebound—they limit opponents to an OR% of 22.0, good for No. 2 in the nation. Hardly any of their possessions end in a steal or a turnover, and they play the game at the pace that works for them: hella slow.
Theoretically, the Zags should win this. But if there was a team that spends its entire year trying to beat the Zags, it would be Randy Bennett and company. Saint Mary’s has a better defense than they did last season (No. 51 vs. No. 96) and will not be an easy out.
What to watch out for
Battle of the point guards (x4).
Both Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga boast a dual point guard backcourt, and whichever team is able to throw their opponent off first is going to have a much easier time over the rest of the game. Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins are the bigger of the sets, but they can’t get lulled into a false sense of security. Saint Mary’s doesn’t play defense by going for steals or pressing. They just play sound basketball and make sure their man is covered.
On the other end of the ball, both Williams-Goss and Perkins need to keep their opponents in front of them. Perkins has quick hands and likes to make some lunges for the ball, but he will get burned by either Rahon or Naar virtually every time. Both players need to be physical on their opponents and prepared for the inevitable pick and roll.
Guard the pick and roll this time.
Realistically, this should be a lot easier, because as nice of a guy as Kyle WIltjer was, he was an absolute black hole on defense. No team demonstrated that in a more surgical manner than Saint Mary’s. The Zags will have to be good on their communication and switches. The Gaels are going to try their hardest to create mismatches, and Landale is adept at finishing when against smaller opponent.
This game will be a good introduction to see how Zach Collins and Killian Tillie can do against this drill. Randy Bennett specially designed that offense against last year’s Zags, but as long as Przemek Karnowski is in the middle, the Zags will be slightly susceptible to the mismatches created on the pick and roll. Communication will go a long way here, and if the Zags shut it down early, they should coast.
Keep an eye on Calvin Hermanson.
The Gaels offense has enough weapons that sometimes teams forget about one of the other sharpshooters on the squad. Just ask Stanford, who watched Hermanson drain seven threes against them. Gonzaga’s three point defense is pretty rock solid, but the Gaels will be one of the better tests against it. Hermanson is a big point on that, and he needs to be blanketed at all times.
- Time: 7:00 pm PT
- TV: ESPN2
- Radio: Gonzaga IMG Network
- Online: WatchESPN