It turns out that a week off in between games can sometimes be a problem, or at least that might be one of the explanations from last night’s randomly thrilling overtime win over North Dakota. On Monday night, the Zags hope to have a bit of an easier effort agains the IUPUI Jaguars.
The Jaguars are currently trying to climb out of a five-game losing streak after coming from Pullman on Saturday night. It is going to be a long year for coach Jason Gardner, whose squad owns one win against Division I competition this season.
Meet the opponent
IUPUI Jaguars, 2-7, KenPom #271
In the last game preview, I talked about how North Dakota isn’t very good and that just turned to bite us all in the rear end. So let’s take a different approach and talk about what IUPUI does right.
Although IUPUI is a bit undersized, they are a surprisingly good offensive rebounding team, especially winger DJ McCall. Their defense also forces a pretty high level of turnovers, something that could play to their advantage as Gonzaga has struggled with ball control much of the year.
Other than that, there aren’t too many goods here. IUPUI is ranked nearly No. 300 in total points scored, but their biggest issue is opponents have absolutely torched this squad. IUPUI’s defense lets opponents shoot an eFG% of 61.1 percent, good for No. 350 in the nation (out of 351 schools). With a rank like that, it makes it largely impossible to win any games, especially a game in Spokane.
However, as last night showed, the time to strike is always during winter break. North Dakota came to Spokane with a well-executed game plan and they almost walked away with one of the biggest upsets in history at the McCarthy Athletic Center. Hopefully, the Zags are a bit more prepared this time around.
What to watch out for
Please stop turning the ball over
Against North Dakota, a team that force too many turnovers, the Zags tried their hardest to keep it a close game in that regard. Johnathan Williams had five turnovers and Killian Tillie and Zach Norvell each had four. As a team, the Zags finished with 16 turnovers, which isn’t going to help you win any games. Remember one of the two things we said IUPUI does right? The Zags have to get better with the ball, especially in the first half of games. This turnover trend has graduated from manageable, to tolerable, to get out of my house. Eventually, it will cost them.
Learn how to create energy without the home crowd
The biggest issue during winter break is the lack of students, and like it is as most colleges, the overall enthusiasm level is rather dampened in Spokane during that time. That means the Zags need to get everyone on their feet through the use of smart plays, runs, and occasionally an exclamation mark dunk here and there. They can’t rely on a robust fan environment to knock opponents on their heels—it just isn’t there in December.
Get that two-point defense back on track
The Zags had quite a long streak (50+ games if I remember correctly) of not letting any opponent shoot higher than 50 percent for two-pointers in a game. That streak ended against Villanova, and the situation hasn’t changed since then. The Washington Huskies shot 52.8 percent for two-pointers, and North Dakota shot a whopping 60 percent. The defense was never going to be as good as it was last season, but the Zags need to put a focus back on that in the near future. Otherwise, there will be an upset sooner than later in Spokane.