The Gonzaga Bulldogs have gone through arguably the biggest grinder of a non-conference schedule in school history. Even in their game against UT-Arlington on Tuesday, you could still see glimpses of fatigue. After this game on Friday, the boys will finally get some much-needed rest over Christmas. Hopefully it’s a chance to reset their bodies, and they come out ready to roll for conference play.
But they do have one last opponent before they get those days off. The Denver Pioneers come to The Kennel. After a very ugly start, Denver has won three of their last four games, including a road win at Wyoming, a very difficult place to play. They also competed well with Kansas State in November.
Meet the Opponent
Denver Pioneers: 5-8, KenPom #266
The Pioneers are led by a trio of upperclassmen guards in Joe Rosga, Ade Murkey, and Ronnie Harrell. All three of them average in double figures. If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because Harrell played his first three seasons at Creighton before transferring to Denver. He scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds against Gonzaga last season. Rosga was First Team All-Summit a year ago, and Murkey has the best offensive rating of the three thus far.
Their coach is Rodney Billups, the younger brother of Chauncey Billups. He’s in his third season coaching his alma matter and is only 35 years old. Denver finished fourth in the Summit League his first season and finished third last year. They were picked to finish third again in this season’s pre-season poll.
What to Watch For
Guard the 3
Denver is an incredibly efficient three-point shooting team. If there’s any way that a huge underdog can hang around with a Top 10 team, it’s by hitting a flurry of threes. As a team, they shoot just under 40 percent from deep, good for 20th nationally. The aforementioned trio of guards all shoot at least 42 percent. They are coming off a win against Montana State in which they nailed 15 triples made by seven different players. If Gonzaga doesn’t get a hand up on shooters, Denver will hang around.
More Zone Offense Work
Denver plays a decent amount of zone. Assuming they’ve watched plenty of Gonzaga tape, especially against UW and UTA, they may go zone exclusively. The thing about Denver’s defense, though, is that it isn’t very good right now. They are in the bottom 25 nationally in 3-pointers allowed and 3-point percentage defense. They’ve given up double digit threes in eight of their 13 games. This could be a good game for Zach Norvell to break out of a mini shooting slump. He’s just 6-for-23 (26%) in his last three games.
Ayayi or Foster?
After being behind Greg Foster Jr in the pecking order all season, Joel Ayayi made a first half appearance on Tuesday and played a season-high 12 minutes. He generally played well and seemed to be communicating on defense, an easy way to gain more minutes right now. We’ll see what Mark Few decides in the rotation for this one, as we may only get a few more games before Geno Crandall comes back and both Foster and Ayayi are relegated back to the bench.