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Gonzaga vs. Texas Southern game preview: Let the Final Four run begin!

Ok maybe not but who cares, basketball is back.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-North Carolina vs Texas Southern Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a long, long seven months, but we are finally here. The Gonzaga Bulldogs open their season against Texas Southern Tigers on Friday evening.

We got a glimpse of this new-look Gonzaga team, which has just as many familiar faces as it does unknowns. The Zags were equally parts dominate and equally parts finding their footing in their exhibition win, as exhibitions tend to be.

For the Zags, they have a nice little home stretch to build some confidence before launching into the murderers row that is the PK80 Invitational over the Thanksgiving holiday. With various roles still being defined, these “easy” opening games will be much welcome in Spokane.

Meet the Opponent

Texas Southern Tigers, Last Year’s KenPom #212

You might have heard of the NCAA Tournament team Texas Southern. They hail from the SWAC, and are well known for scheduling the most grueling non-conference schedules this side of anywhere. Last season, the Tigers didn’t play a single home game in non-conference play, and opened their first three conference games on the road. During that time, they played the likes of Louisville, Baylor, Arizona, and Cincinnati, among others.

Absolutely zero has changed this year. The Tigers play every non-conference game on the road, but at least get to open their conference play at home. During this run, they’ll play us, Syracuse, Kansas, Oregon, Baylor and BYU, among others. You think Gonzaga has the “we’ll play anyone, anywhere mantra”? Texas Southern shows us a thing or two about that.

The Tigers won the SWAC last season, and they largely did that off an aggressive and swarming defense that relies on forcing turnovers as much as anything else. Last season, Texas Southern’s steal percentage as a team was ranked No. 48 in the nation, and they held opponents three-point percentage to 32.6.

They are led in scoring by a a couple of guards, senior Kevin Scott, and sophomore Demontrae Jefferson. Other than that, there are a lot of unknown pieces. The Tigers lost five seniors from the squad, and their best big man Derrick Griffin hopped into the NFL Draft.

What to watch out for

Is the starting five set, or will it remain fluid?

The answer to this question is probably the latter. In the exhibition game, Johnathan Williams and Rui Hachimura started in the frontcourt, with Corey Kispert on the wing and Silas Melson and Josh Perkins in the backcourt. Melson, Perkins, and Williams are all the guarantees. The question is whether or not Hachimura will remain as a starter alongside Kispert.

In the exhibition game, Killian Tillie was the true star, scoring 28 points on perfect shooting. Granted, you can only take away so much from an exhibition game, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Tillie starting tonight, and potentially that four spot going to whoever has the hot hand. Kispert is an interesting start as well. Zach Norvell Jr. picked up some really quick fouls in the first half, but he had a great second half, finishing with 17 points. Kispert struggled a bit from the field in the exhibition, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Norvell start this game with Kispert coming off the bench.

Will the backcourt shoot the ball a bit more?

Perkins and Melson have the skill to score a lot of points, but they also tend to take a backseat sometimes to the rest of the offense. Against a D-II school, that isn’t a big deal. But against a Big 10 school, the Zags are going to need a more balanced attack. In the exhibition game, Perkins and Melson combined for just eight shots total. Again, just an exhibition game, but without Nigel Williams-Goss in the backcourt this year, one of the two is going to need to score some points.