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Gonzaga vs. Portland 2017 game preview: Zags look to keep rolling

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The first game of a back to back with Pilots

Portland v Gonzaga Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

On Friday morning, the world and Zag faithful woke up to a KenPom rankings with Gonzaga slotted in at number one.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are the only team on Pomeroy’s ratings system that rank in the top five in offensive and defensive efficiency. And unlike the RPI, KenPom actually seems correlative to something, as it was announced last week that Pomeroy and other statisticians met with the NCAA selection committee to help them create a new metric for the tournament selection process.

And as Gonzaga affirms their national ranking as the national media begin their yearly swoon, in come the #270 KenPom ranked Portland Pilots (9-9, 2-4). The first meeting between the former WCC travel partners, Saturday night will be yet another reminder of the trials of being a major mid-major.

Meet the opponent

Fresh off of a 4 game losing streak only broken up by a postponed home meeting with the Zags, the Pilots are trying their best to right the new year after starting 1-4. In 2017, the Pilots have scored 276 points (55.2 per) to their opponents’ 358 (71.6 per). The 7th place Pilots were soundly beaten 75-50 in San Francisco by the fifth place Dons (13-7, 3-4), which is minimized only by the 74-33 drumming the Saint Mary’s Gaels gave them back on January 12th in Portland.

The Pilots are led by a backcourt of senior Alec Wintering (19.5 points and 5.6 assists per game) and great-named sophomore Jazz Johnson (16.9 points per game). Both Wintering and Johnson are undersized guards, coming in at 6 feet and 5-foot-10 respectively. Portland will sometimes play with an extended bench, but Wintering, Johnson and the accompaniment of juniors D’Marques Tyson and Gabs Taylor will play major minutes. Wintering, Johnson and Taylor average over 35 minutes a game and Tyson will play anywhere from 25 to 30 plus.

What to watch out for

Portland relies on penetration and the perimeter.

A focus will no doubt be on Wintering’s dribble penetration and Johnson, Tyson and Taylor’s three point shooting. Johnson has made an absurd 42 threes on 107 attempts, making him a threat if he gets hot. Ultimately this will be a nice additional litmus test for Gonzaga’s perimeter defense that held Saint Mary’s to under their season average a week ago.

Zags interior looks to impose their will.

Portland will no doubt need to shoot lights out to stay in this one, as their interior presence has been their greatest weakness all season. German junior Philipp Hartwich has been the only real consistent performer inside, averaging 5 boards a game. The Pilots are at a negative 2.5 rebound margin per game this season, ranking 285th in the country. 2016-2017 is a ultimately a rebuilding year for former Blazer and NBA head coach Terry Porter in his first season on campus.

What will the second half minutes look like?

For the Zags, health may be the most important factor of this game. Perkins seemed to have recovered well by Thursday’s game against Santa Clara, but this Saturday’s matchup seems like as good of a time as any to lengthen that rotation and give the bench guys major minutes. Expect another focused inside attack by Przemek Karnowski and Johnathan Williams, and some extra minutes logged for Zach Collins and Killian Tillie, fouls permitting.

Rui Hachimura and Bryan Alberts only clocked 6 and 5 minutes in Santa Clara, and Hachimura’s length and athleticism matches up well against the Pilot’s third guard/small forward spot usually filled by a 6-foot-8 Taylor, 6-foot-6 Jarrel Marshall or 6-foot-7 Chier Maker.

Game info

  • Time: 5 PM PT
  • TV: KHQ/Root Sports
  • Radio: Gonzaga IMG Network
  • Online: WatchESPN