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Gonzaga vs. North Dakota State game preview: Time for a breather

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The Zags return home for an easier game.

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational-Duke at Gonzaga Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

After a wildly successful Maui Invitational, the Gonzaga Bulldogs return home for a tune-up game against North Dakota State on Monday.

The Zags are rolling at one of the highest points the program has ever reached, coming off a Maui Invitational Championship in which the Zags defeated the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils, the first time Gonzaga has ever knocked off the top team in the nation.

North Dakota State spent part of the Thanksgiving holiday at East Tennessee State, a game it lost 79-61.

Meet the opponent

North Dakota State Bison, 2-4, KenPom #204

The Bison are one of the younger teams in the nation. There is not a single senior on this squad. As such, there are some growing pains happening here. North Dakota State very well could be a challenging out in future years, but this year, that isn’t the case.

The offense comes from sophomore forward Rocky Kreuser, who averages 11.5 points, and junior guard Tyson Ward, who averages 11.3 points. The offense has a few things going for it overall: 1) the Bison own an effective field goal percentage of 53.6 (65th-best in the nation), and 2) they take good care of the ball on offense.

Other than that, this game will be all Gonzaga all the time. The Zags should dominate the rebounding battle. North Dakota State is one of the more poor offensive rebounding teams in the nation. Outside of junior center Deng Geu, the Bison don’t have a lot of interior threats to challenge Gonzaga.

What to watch out for

Hopefully, a lot of minutes from the bench.

One of the best things about the Maui Invitational is the frenetic pace of the tournament, as all teams play three games in three days. It also makes for some haggard levels of play, as we saw Gonzaga gasping to get across the finish line against Duke. This week, the Zags have their only reprieve before the monstrous upcoming two weeks: at Creighton, home vs. Washington, neutral vs. Tennessee, and at North Carolina. The Zags are going to need everyone as rested as possible for the next couple of weeks.

Keep giving Jeremy Jones the minutes he clearly deserves.

Mark Few is notorious for operating on a smaller rotation, and one of the many complaints of his coaching is that players often get yanked into the dog house too quickly. Jeremy Jones was one of the best surprises of the Maui Invitational, and he provided an average of 17 quality minutes in each of the games. Jones earned his minutes in Maui, and the coaching staff needs to reward him going forward.

Let’s get Geno Crandall jumpstarted.

It was always going to be an uphill climb for the graduate transfer to be a productive member of the Gonzaga Bulldogs. He has only been on the squad for roughly five weeks after all. When he is not scoring, however, it is hard to see a huge benefit to Crandall on the floor other than five fouls to give. In the Maui Invitational, he was hampered by turnover or foul trouble. Outside of an awesome circus shot against Duke, he would’ve been scoreless in the three games. Overall, he shot 1-of-9 from the floor, with three rebounds, two assists, and six turnovers.

As a natural point guard, Crandall is important to this squad’s success later in the year. He will be able to spell Perkins for some breathers, while also freeing up Perkins to play off the ball sometimes, a spot he excels at. Unfortunately, Crandall isn’t up to speed yet, and if he isn’t scoring, than his value drastically drops. On the season, Crandall’s eFG% is 31.7, nearly 20 points lower than his career average. A big game would do wonders for the confidence. Let’s hope it comes sooner than later.