We are truly and finally here. After a brief taste during an exhibition win over Central Washington University, the Gonzaga Bulldogs open the 2018-19 season officially with a home game over the Idaho State Bengals out of the Big Sky Conference on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
The Zags are coming off a sloppy, yet perfectly fine win over Central Washington last week, 108-69. Six Bulldogs finished with double-digit points, led by Rui Hachimura’s 23 points. Brandon Clarke added his first (of what will most likely be many) double-doubles.
Meet the opponent
Idaho State Bengals, 0-0, KenPom #258
Don’t let that KenPom number scare you. The first couple of months of the season highly incorporate last season’s stats, and the Bengals should definitely be better this year. The Bengals went 9-9 in the Big Sky Conference, not good enough to warrant much talk of anything.
Idaho State returns its two top scorers from last season, point guard Brandon Boyd and forward Jared Stutzman, who each averaged 14.9 points per game last season. Both players were effective long range shooters, Stutzman in particular, who shot 51.3 percent from three last season, the third best mark in the country.
The spot where the Zags have a chance to do some damage is at center. Idaho State’s 7’0 junior center Novak Topalovic graduated and transferred to Utah. His backup, Blake Truman, averaged 10 minutes per game last season. The Bengals added 6’11 junior center Kelvin Jones, who transferred in from Odessa College. Those two players are the tallest members of the Bengals, and the Zags should have no issues dominating the boards in this contest.
What to watch out for
Always stay in the face of Jared Stutzman.
Stutzman shot 66-for-127 last season from three point range. Thanks to that absolutely bonkers clip, he had the second-highest eFG% in the nation last season. Some random forward on Idaho State! Stutzman is going to absolutely stretch the floor, and no matter what, he needs to have someone in his face at all times. He loves the right wing in transition, running to that corner nearly half of the time, according to Synergy Sports. He is a unique player to test the defensive awareness of Hachimura and Clarke. If Stutzman heats up early from long range, expect to see a bit of zone defense thrown in to try and slow him down.
Hopefully, we will see less fouls this time around.
The exhibition game had a healthy amount of whistles echo throughout The Kennel. Filip Petrusev fouled out after 16 minutes of play. Zach Norvell picked up four. Gonzaga and Central Washington combined for 52 total fouls. The Zags were a bit sloppy in general, but the fouls didn’t help at all as Gonzaga took a bit of time to establish an offensive rhythm. The whole point of the exhibition is to get out of the system--hopefully that is the case.
Play loose, have fun, but figure it out.
The injury to Killian Tillie came at an inopportune time, because the season was just around the corner. Expect things to be a bit clunky at the beginning of the season because of it. The Zags starting rotation suddenly changed, and players that might not have seen minutes with Tillie on the floor are now seeing time on the floor. Petrusev, most importantly, will need to be efficient during his time on the court. The Zags need him to excel if they hope to survive this non-conference gauntlet. These early games allow for a looser bit of play, and the Zags would do well to get it out of their system before Maui.