The Gonzaga Bulldogs head on the short road down to Portland to take on the Pilots in the second game of the conference series. Gonzaga won the first game at home, 103-57.
The Zags of course are coming off a shaky week. They were upset by Saint Mary’s at home and turned in a semi-but-not-really convincing performance over Santa Clara on the road.
The Pilots, on the other hand, are finally enjoying life. After losing their first six-straight conference games, Portland pulled an upset at San Diego, 55-49, and knocked off Loyola, 72-65. The WCC said eff you, and scheduled Gonzaga for tomorrow, and right after that is a trip to Moraga. Oof.
Meet the opponent
Portland Pilots, 8-13, KenPom #263
Not much has changed for the Pilots since the Zags first saw them because that was a mere two weeks ago. So rather than regurgitating the old preview, let’s try and look at their wins to see what went right.
Right off the bat, that is an easier said than done task. Against San Diego, Portland coughed the ball up 17 times but still somehow came out with a win. The Toreros ground the game to a halt. Portland was able to keep up and beat San Diego at its own game. Against LMU, it is more of the same. The Lions had 20 offensive rebounds (!!!) and still lost. In that game there were two key differences: Portland shot the ball well close to the hoop, and the free throw margin led the way. Philip Hartwich and his 7’2 body swatting away six shots also helped quite a bit.
For the Zags, the key will be containing Hartwich. They did that nicely in the first time around—Hartwich scored a grand total of zero points as Gonzaga completely denied him the ball. There are still capable scorers around him, but not enough to really threaten Gonzaga with anything. Portland is one of the worst teams in the WCC, and this game usually ends up having quite a massive Gonzaga contingent. More of a nothing to see and move along game.
What to watch out for
The Silas Melson homecoming.
Melson graduates this year, so this will mark the final return trip to Portland, where he was a star at Jefferson High School. Melson scored a career high 23 points against the Pilots earlier this year in Spokane, and it would be great if he puts on another offensive production. Melson’s defensive has been on point as always, but his offensive contributions in the WCC have been shaky at best. We all know he is capable of scoring some, but it would be nice to see more consistency in that scoring. Melson is averaging nearly 10 points per game in conference, but in five of those games he has scored a combined 18 points.
Oh Corey Kispert Where Art Thou?
Kispert just hasn’t been the same since missing two games with an ankle injury in the fall. He averaged 10.7 points before his injury, and that has fallen to just 5.3 since. Granted, that number is skewed a bit lower because of a few games of rehabilitation, but Kispert has virtually disappeared in the past three games. Against San Francisco, Saint Mary’s, and Santa Clara, he has a grand total of three points. He has only shot seven field goal attempts in the past three games. The Zags need to get Kispert’s offense back into rhythm, and a game against Portland is the perfect jump start.
More minutes for Jacob Larsen please?
There is an obvious pattern to us casual viewers of Jacob Larsen’s potential. When he gets the minutes, he gets the results. The issue is he doesn’t necessarily get those minutes consistently. Larsen has only played 10 or more minutes in nine games this season. In 12 games, it is nine minutes or less. In the past three games, he has played a grand total of 10 minutes. Now, I am not one to straight up second guess the rotation decisions—I’ve always assumed that if a player isn’t on the floor there is a reason. So perhaps the coaching staff hasn’t liked what they have seen from Larsen on defense during practices, or something like that. But seemingly, when he gets the minutes, he is able to do good things with those minutes. Larsen provides, at the very minimum, some more fouls down low and the offensive potential to contribute as well. It would be nice to see the coaching staff throw him into the fray a bit more.