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Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s game preview: The game of the year is finally here

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The biggest test for the Zags undefeated run is tonight.

NCAA Basketball: St. Mary's at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, you can pretty much circle the game in Moraga, California, as the biggest game of the Gonzaga Bulldogs’ conference schedule. This season, with the Zags on an undefeated run and eyeing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, that statement couldn’t loom any larger.

The Zags continued to take care of business against LMU, coming away with a tidy 90-60 win over the Lions. Nigel Williams-Goss, fresh off of a physical beating against BYU, got clobbered by the Lions (again).

Saint Mary’s is not riding a high streak whatsoever. The Gaels have won every game since losing at Spokane, but Saint Mary’s struggled mightily against Portland at home. Sure, they were their ever efficient Saint Mary’s, but that was due to a volume of free throw shooting, which powered their 51-41 win over the Pilots. Rule of the thumb, if you can only manage 51 points against the Pilots, and play in a game where it is tied for much of the time, that isn’t exactly a good win.

Meet the opponent

Saint Mary’s Gaels, 22-2, KenPom #16

Yeah, yeah, yeah, last time the Gaels rolled into Spokane the Zags trounced them in an easily winnable game. But take a look at that KenPom number up there. The Gaels, like them or not, are an incredibly efficient team, and playing in Moraga is going to be a different beast.

The offense still runs through Jock Landale, who is one of the more efficient players in the nation. Landale isn’t quite running a double-double average anymore at 16.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, but if you had to create a list of top 10 players in the WCC, he is most definitely on it.

The Gaels, like the Zags, run a dual point guard system, with both Joe Rahon and Emmett Naar able to dish it out like nobody’s business. The Gaels shoot the ball so well because they move the ball so well. Their assist to field-goals made ratio is the sixth-highest in the nation. Their eFG% is the fourth-highest in the nation. Offensively, this is as efficient as a squad as the Zags will face all year.

On the defensive end, theoretically, the Gaels are good. Things didn’t look that way in Spokane, but perhaps things will be different in Moraga. Saint Mary’s only allows 55.9 points per game, second lowest mark in the nation. Much of this is accomplished by a tempo that grinds the earth’s rotation to a halt, but also because they remove the three point threat and the free throw attempt from their opponents. Opponents have gone to the charity stripe the lowest amount in the nation against Saint Mary’s, and they have the fifth-fewest three point attempts allowed in the nation.

What to watch out for

Stuff the Saint Mary’s point guards.

Gonzaga’s dismantling of the Gaels the last time around began with disrupting Naar and Rahon the entire game. Rahon finished with eight points on 3-of-13 shooting and Naar was non-existent, finishing with four points and just one assist. If the Zags make it hell for the Saint Mary’s guards, it makes it hell for the Saint Mary’s offense to run like it needs to. Shit trickles down hill in this aspect of the Saint Mary’s offense, and the Zags have the players to make it work. We don’t need Silas Melson’s offense this game, we need his smothering defense. This should be priority number one for the Zags, and it is one they’ll be ready for.

Watch the offensive rebounding for both teams.

The Zags aren’t the best team at keeping teams off the offensive glass, and unfortunately for Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s is a pretty good team at crashing the boards. In a game where it should theoretically be a close contest, these second chance points become that much more important. This is a dual issue tonight, however, because the Gaels are also insanely good at keeping teams from snaring offensive rebounds.

Just look to the last contest. Guess how many Gonzaga finishes with? Two. A grand total of two. That is the lowest number of offensive rebounds the Zags have had the entire season.

Game info

  • Time: 5:15 pm PT
  • TV: ESPN (Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas and Maria Taylor)
  • Radio: Gonzaga IMG Radio Network (Tom Hudson and Matt Santangelo)
  • Online: WatchESPN