It is hard to believe that the 2017-18 basketball season is almost over. The Gonzaga Bulldogs have their two final home games of the season this week. Granted, the season is far from over—it isn’t March yet. But boy how time flies....
The Zags are coming off their strongest performance of the year, a dominating display of power and aggression over the Saint Mary’s Gaels on Saturday. LMU is coming off a win over Pepperdine, which isn’t saying much, but the Lions are having a really rough year as well. So a win is a win for them.
Meet the opponent
LMU Lions, 8-17, KenPom #233
Earlier this season, the Zags beat the Lions on the road by nearly 20 points. There isn’t anything that will suggest a different score. If at all, the Zags should win by more. The Lions defense is that porous—ranked No. 326 in the nation by KenPom. Opponents have an eFG% of 57.3, No. 342 in the nation. It is hard to win any games if you can’t keep the opponent from scoring.
There is one game we can look to where LMU was able to pull the monumental upset: The inexplicable win over BYU at home. In that game, the Lions relied heavily on the two things they do quite well—force steals and offensive rebound. LMU is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the entire country, ranked No. 5, and their defense is one of the best at forcing turnovers, ranked No. 10. Against BYU in that game, LMU corralled 11 offensive rebounds and forced an astonishing 14 steals.
Throw in a huge game from James Batemon (leading scorer at 16.9 points per game) and it was enough to pull off the win. Against Gonzaga, the Lions are going to need a lot more than that. Last time around, only six LMU players scored, and most of them scored well below their season averages. It seems pretty implausible that LMU pulls the upset there, but crazier things have happened in the world.
What to watch out for
A chance for some meaningful minutes from the bench.
As the season goes on, the rotation gets tighter and tighter, that is just how it goes. Jacob Larsen has played nine minutes in the past five games. Jeremy Jones has taken some of those minutes, but when the tournament comes around, there is a good chance the Zags will need Larsen and his five fouls to give. This is a prime opportunity to give him some solid playing time against real competition. The same goes for Corey Kispert, whose defense has struggled quite a bit. He needs to demonstrate he has the positives to bring to the court, and a strong offensive showing against LMU might be just what the doctor ordered.
Continued strong play from Josh Perkins.
Most likely, no one has noticed, but Josh Perkins has quietly been one of the better players for the Zags in the ways they’ve needed most. After turning the ball over six times against San Diego State, Josh Perkins has turned the ball over just 20 times, which doesn’t seem like a lot until you consider that is over the course of 14 games. Perkins is averaging 5.1 assists to just 1.4 turnovers per game in conference play. On the season, he has lowered his mark to just 2.2 turnovers per game, just a tad bit higher than Nigel Williams-Goss averaged last season. So before you start ranting and raving about yet another stupid Perkins’ pass, perhaps pay attention to the progress that has been made this season.