The Gonzaga Bulldogs finish their beginning of the season homestand against the Utah State Aggies on Saturday. After the contest, the Bulldogs will venture down to Portland for the week to take part in the PK80 Invitational.
Gonzaga is coming off of an electric win over the Howard Bison on Tuesday, in which the Zags just had their way in any way they saw fit. It was an all around team affair, with five players scoring in double figures and generally making a mockery of their over matched opponent.
Utah State is coming off a demolition of Mississippi Valley State, perennially one of the worst teams in the nation.
Meet the opponent
Utah State Aggies, 2-1, KenPom #133
You probably remember Utah State fondly from the late 2000s. Back then, the Aggies were an explosive offensive squad with a defense to match, and that translated to three straight NCAA appearances. They also had a student section that was one of the best in the nation, with multiple ESPN appearances of “Wild Bill.”
Things are a bit different now. The Aggies haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2011. Utah State was once again picked to finish middle of the road in the Mountain West Conference. They should put up more of a challenge than the Zags first two opponents, however.
The Aggies are led by juco transfer DeAngelo Isby and sophomore guard Koby McEwan. But the real meat of the matter for Utah State comes from the defense. Although things got a bit rough around the edges last season, Utah State is holding opponents to 61.7 points per game.
The Aggies have a solid perimeter defense, often forcing offenses off of the three point shot. They follow this up with an plodding, methodical, and grinding offense. Where as the Bison were equally happy to huck up three pointer after three pointer, the Aggies will slow this game down to a crawl—it is the only way they have a chance.
McEwen and Isby will provide a nice test for the Gonzaga guards. The Utah State backcourt has some solid size, and it will be interesting to see how players like Corey Kispert and Zach Norvell respond. On the front court, the Aggies are woefully undersized. Junior centers Quinn Taylor and Alex Dargenton stand at 6’8, and they will have their work cut out for them trying to contain Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie, Rui Hachimura, and Jacob Larsen.
What to watch out for
Does the three point onslaught continue?
In a post to be released later today, we will detail how the Zags are shooting threes at a rate they never have before to start a season. Utah State hasn’t allowed their opponents to make too many threes this season, but they also haven’t faced a team that shoots at the rate Gonzaga does. So far this season, it seems like Mark Few has given everyone the green light to launch away, and as long as the shots keep falling, that leash isn’t getting tightened any time soon.
Does Jacob Larsen get the start?
This seems a bit crazy, considering that we also have Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie on the squad, but Larsen has been freakishly effective in his limited minutes on the court. His per 40 minute averages (small sample size but who the hell cares cause these are rad): 26.7 points and 23.7 rebounds per game. GIVE THIS MAN THE BALL! Seriously, Larsen has been stellar in his two showings so far. Johnathan Williams is definitely a starter, but Larsen and Williams have such different styles they would work well together on the court. Tillie has been perfectly fine, but if Larsen continues this rampage, eventually something has to give.
Can Rui Hachimura put it together for a full game?
Now we know why Tommy Lloyd said that year two was the year Rui does more but year three is the breakout year. For as many times as Hachimura looks like the most phenomenal athlete on the court, he has just as many times where he looks a bit lost—especially on defense. Rui is by no means a liability on the court, but he hasn’t really displayed a game that doesn’t rely on attacking the rim. According to Hoop-Math.com, Rui has taken 86.7 percent of his shots at the rim—much higher than anyone on the team. That works fine for over matched squads, but in the PK80 Invitational, will he be as effective?