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Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s game preview: Time for complete destruction and nothing less

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Remember that time when the WCC coaches voted Saint Mary’s as the top team in the conference?

NCAA Basketball: Texas-Arlington at St. Mary's Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs always have a number of games circled on the calendar, but this year, the Saint Mary’s games takes on extra meaning. At the beginning of the season, the WCC coaches rewarded Saint Mary’s as the presumptive top team in the conference. And well, that title always goes through Spokane. After months of chatter, it is finally time to see if this Gaels squad is for real.

Is Saint Mary’s actually good is still a legitimate question. The Gaels own decent wins over New Mexico State and a big overtime road win against BYU and....uh.....so.....um.....yeah Saint Mary’s has also played a bunch of other games. They also own losses against a not good Washington State Cougars team and a decent Georgia Bulldogs team.

Meet the opponent

Saint Mary’s Gaels, 17-2, KenPom #20

If you want to read more about the Gaels just read everything that was written last year and disregard any sentence that has Joe Rahon in it. Otherwise, pretty much everything else is going to be the same. This is a squad featuring potential All-American Jock Landale, who is constantly fed the ball by point guard Emmett Naar. Forward Calvin Hermanson provides some additional offense courtesy of a jump shot that makes you want to quit watching the sport of basketball. The only addition to this squad is super-super transfer senior Cullen Neal, and his impact has been rather minimal.

So what does Saint Mary’s do right? Pretty much everything on offense. This is a remarkably patient team led by one of the best distributors in the entire nation. Naar’s 9.4 assists per game are ranked second in the entire country. He happens to also have one of the best players to feed the ball to in Landale. Landale is second in KenPom’s player of the year standings to Trae Young. He is doing everything he did last year, just a tad bit better. Landale’s line of 21.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game is astounding, especially considering he is shooting 65 percent from the floor and 74 percent from free throw range.

The Gaels as a team have the third-best eFG% in the nation, shooting 59.3 percent. They can hit the shot from long range and they will always pass up a good shot to find the better shot. Gonzaga’s defense needs to be locked in and aggressive. Some of us will point to last year and say, “yeah but we destroyed the same Saint Mary’s team.” The big difference is the Zags are missing Nigel Williams-Goss, a severely underrated perimeter defender, and Przemek Karnowski. Gonzaga’s defense is not nearly as strong as it used to be, so we shouldn’t expect the same results from last season.

What to watch out for

Jock Landale is going to get his buckets. Make sure everyone else doesn’t.

The key for the Zags isn’t on locking down Landale. He is going to score and he is going to give the Zags fits. The key will be to locking down the rest of the team. Landale’s lowest point total of the season is 13 points, and this season, he won’t have to deal with the combination of Karnowski and Zach Collins dogging him all night. Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie are good defenders, but each gives up a bit of size one Landale. They are going to have their hands full defending Landale, but they will need to do their best job. Every time Landale is double-teamed, someone else gets open, and that is how the Gaels get easy points.

Don’t turn the ball over at all.

Zero turnovers is a tall task, but Saint Mary’s isn’t a good defensive team. They also don’t force a whole lot of turnovers, so most of the turnovers in this game the Zags commit will border on unforced. The Gaels are too good offensively to give extra chances to—there is a good chance they will score when given the ball. The Zags as a team need to clean up the ball control a bit—it has been an issue all season. Gonzaga turned the ball over 13 times against San Francisco, but the Dons are a much better defensive squad than Saint Mary’s. Thirteen turnovers against Saint Mary’s will be unacceptable.

These kids better be really &*#$&3$ loud.

I try to stay out of the argument that the student section has gotten a bit soft in this day and age. Against Saint Mary’s, this shouldn’t ever be the case. This is the first game back after the winter break, and the fog of the holidays should be completely lifted off, for a full 40 minutes. There shouldn’t be one second that the decibel level inside The Kennel is anything less than permanently damaging to the eardrums.