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Gonzaga vs. Washington game preview: Zags hit the road

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It is the first true road game of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Villanova Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

The inter-state grudge match is always a fun add to the Gonzaga Bulldogs schedule, as the Zags head west on I-90 for a few hours to take on the Washington Huskies.

The two teams could not have had more different weeks. The Gonzaga Bulldogs got absolutely pasted by the Villanova Wildcats in New York City as part of the Jimmy V Classic. A bit later, the Washington Huskies pulled off an upset absolutely no one outside of the Washington Huskies would have ever predicted, beating the Kansas Jayhawks, 74-65.

So now, what seemed like a relatively meaningless, but fun game, has some added importance, depending on who you ask. Either way, it should be for a raucous evening in side of the Hec Ed Arena.

Meet the opponent

Washington Huskies, 7-2, Ken Pomeroy #114

Wait a second, I thought the Huskies just beat the Jayhawks. Then how do they still have such a wretched KenPom score? The answer lies in the details. The Huskies have a middle of the road offense, and a below average defense (that is definitely trending upwards). New coach Mike Hopkins came from Syracuse University, and he knows only one thing: the 2-3 zone. It has been a bit sloppy in the early get go for the Huskies as they learn a completely new system. But you have to give them credit, if the Kansas game is anything, Washington might be getting the hang of it.

There are pretty much only four names you need to know on Washington: Jaylen Nowell, Noah Dickerson, David Crisp, and Mattise Thybulle. Those four players combined to score approximately 73 percent of the Huskies’ total points. Dickerson, in particular, will be an interesting player to watch. He scores 16 points and grabs 8.7 rebounds—think Johnathan Williams minus the three point range. Dickerson is an absolute workhorse, as shown in a win over Eastern Washington where he grabbed 22 rebounds.

Nowell has quietly established himself as one of the best young guards in the country that no one wants to talk about. He is averaging nearly 18 points per game, although he is only hitting 25 percent from three. Nowell’s bread and butter are staying mainly within the arc, and he loves to try and find his open jumper.

What to watch out for

Zags need to tune out the crowd.

There is a good chance that quite a few Gonzaga fans will be at this game. But there is no denying the energy flowing through the Husky fanbase after that win over Kansas. Combine that with the fact that it is Gonzaga rolling into town, I’d expect the Puppy Mill (or whatever the fanbase is called these days) to be ferociously loud—most likely the loudest all season. This is an extra important fact because tomorrow is Gonzaga’s first true road game of the year. The PK80 Invitational was a defacto home game for the Zags. Villanova was mostly Wildcat fans, but Hec Ed will be different. The Huskies like to push the tempo, and they have the athletes to score in bunches, sometimes.

Zags need to play smart and attack that zone

The toughest thing about playing teams such as Syracuse or Washington now is you rarely see that defensive set again. It is something that is practiced some, but not practiced forever. Luckily for the Zags, the Huskies are still getting their feet settled in on the zone, and that gives an opportunity for the Zags to be extra aggressive. Gonzaga, theoretically, should be well suited to attempt to shred this zone to bits with players like Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie. Both players didn’t have a good game against Villanova, and both players will need to step it up to make this a win. Gonzaga just can’t rely on hitting threes and the occasional penetrating drive from Silas Melson.

Don’t take this Washington team for granted.

With everything the Huskies lost last year, and with the Zags coming off of a national title appearance, most people probably wrote this game off on the schedule as an easy win. It still could very well be that, but at the same time, you don’t just accidentally beat the Kansas Jayhawks. Gonzaga, by all accounts, is the better team in this contest. But sometimes the better team doesn’t win. The Huskies are riding about as high as they have been since that random time they were ranked No. 13 in 2014. Gonzaga needs to be prepared to silence the crowd and take control of this game early.