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Gonzaga vs. North Dakota game preview: Time to shrug off that finals daze

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After a week off, the Zags are back on the court.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Finals week is an odd respite in college basketball land. The Gonzaga Bulldogs have been playing games with such reckless abandon, the week off since the win over the Washington Huskies seems years ago. But fret not friends! On Saturday, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks trudge into Spokane.

The Zags are coming off a tidy 97-70 beatdown of the Washington Huskies in Seattle on Sunday. Johnathan Williams led all scorers with 23 points, and Zach Norvell continued his incredibly strong play since entering the starting lineup with 21 points.

North Dakota is currently riding a three-game losing streak, which will most likely unfortunately be pushed to a four-game losing streak. Although, Ken Pomeroy’s calculations do give the Fighting Hawks a one-percent chance of pulling off a victory. Crazier upsets have happened....I guess?

Meet the opponent

North Dakota Fighting Hawks, 4-6, KenPom #277

This game will most likely get ugly quickly, and much of that stems from North Dakota’s subpar defense. Opponents have an eFG% of 58.9, ranking North Dakota No. 337 in the nation. There are pretty much zero good things about this defense. Opponents hit twos and threes at will, and in a game of Rock N’ Jock, North Dakota would lost 1,000-50.

Offensively, North Dakota has a couple of capable guards in Geno Crandall and Marlon Stewart. Crandall averages 16.5 points and Stewart chips in 13.7 per game. Crandall is the lone outside threat for North Dakota, who as a team struggle severely from long range, shooting just 27.7 percent as a team.

In fact, as a team, North Dakota just struggle to shoot the ball at all. Their eFG% as a team stands at 46.4, good for No. 297 in the nation. Their style of play is get rid of the ball as quickly as possible, and then run back down the other end of the court. North Dakota has an average possession length of 14.5 seconds, ninth quickest in the nation, but also has an offensive rebounding percentage of 23.6, No. 306 in the nation. There is no recipe for success here. Bad offense and bad defense combine to make North Dakota a bad team.

What to watch out for

Does Zach Norvell keep the starting spot?

We talked about this earlier this week. Norvell has been stellar since entering the starting lineup after Corey Kispert went down with an ankle injury. Mark Few said Kispert was only at 50-60 percent when he played a few minutes against Washington. Considering that the Zags have a couple of gimme games against North Dakota and IUPUI before ending the conference on the road against San Diego State, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Norvell in the starting lineup for Saturday.

Is this team finally healthy?

Josh Perkins shoulder popped in and out of place against Washington. Kispert is still recovering. The Zags have played their asses off and physically they have started to get their asses handed to them. The most grueling part of the schedule is over, and hopefully the Zags can quickly get back to 100 percent. This team just doesn’t have enough players to sit without one, especially two, for multiple games.

Can this squad work on turning the ball over less?

This Gonzaga squad is full of stellar shooters, and although they don’t defend as well as last season, they still defend pretty well. There honestly aren’t that many marks against the squad--except turnovers. Williams is averaging 2.9 per game. Perkins is averaging 2.8 per game. This helps contribute to a turnover percentage of 17.7 percent—good for No. 100 in the nation. The Zags moved in the right direction against Washington, only turning it over eight times. That progress needs to continue.