After what has seemed like too long of a time, the Gonzaga Bulldogs 2019-20 season finally opens with a home contest against the Alabama State Hornets. For the Hornets, it marks the first of thirteen-straight road/neutral contests during the non-conference slate. They will not return to Montgomery until conference play begins.
Meet the opponent
Alabama State Hornets, KenPom #321
Last year was a tough year for the Hornets, but the good news is that a majority of the squad returns. Alabama State lost center Fausto Pichardo and guard Reginald Gee, but other than that, every major and minor piece of the team is back for more this season.
The Hornets are not a good shooting team, holding an eFG% of just 46.1 last season, good for No. 333 in the nation. They do not pass the ball well, and tend to rely on individual shot creation over any sort of coherent set play. That said, Alabama State attacks and does a remarkably good job at drawing fouls. Tobi Ewuosho excel at this havoc sort of offense, and it’ll be interesting to see how this approach works when running into the Zags rotating cast of big men.
The Hornets also play some inspired defense. Their defense was No. 35 in the nation in TO%. Interestingly enough, Alabama State doesn’t necessarily play aggressive defense. Ewuosho and point guard Kevin Holston rank highly in steal percentage, but the rest of the team is average at best in that department. Rather, the Hornets play solid team defense. Gonzaga shouldn’t have much trouble pushing past this, but early on in the season, it is a good challenge to face.
What to watch out for
How frontcourt heavy will the Zags be this year?
It is important not to take away too much from an exhibition game, and often times, against the D-II competition, the frontcourt has an easier time going absolutely bonkers because of the severe height/weight differential. In the Zags’ exhibition win over Lewis-Clark State, Filip Petrusev, Anton Watson, and Drew Timme were all the dudes. The backcourt did rather nice as well, but the three guards of Joel Ayayi, Ryan Woolridge, and Admon Gilder combined for just 34 points.
With the unexpected leave of absence from freshman guard Brock Ravet, the Zags’ backcourt is rather thin. One only has to look back to 2016 to recall a team with such a production gap between the front and the backcourt. Granted, that team went to the Sweet 16, but that team also had less expectations. Gonzaga has a rich history of guards who can score—and that helps open up the frontcourt to do its damage. If teams start to pack it in the paint, it will be interesting to see how Gonzaga responds against the better D-I competition.