I am going to let the legendary Stephen A. Smith introduce this article.
Okay, maybe you weren’t, but I certainly was. Because I wrote the game preview for the first Santa Clara game two weeks ago today and I inexplicably wrote these words: “Last year, Gonzaga smacked Santa Clara, 91-48 and 98-39. We will not be seeing a repeat of that this season. After two 50-point drubbings a year ago, the Broncos are more formidable and the Bulldogs will be in for a much better challenge.”
Gonzaga, of course, won the game 104-54 and made me look like a blabbering idiot (which, honestly, is fair). Now, the two teams face off again from the Leavey Center on Thursday night, with the Broncos looking to compete and not lose by 50 points for a fourth straight contest. Will that happen? Don’t ask me.
Meet the Opponent
Santa Clara Broncos (17-5, 4-3 in WCC, KenPom 135)
Herb Sendek’s team is part of a four-way tie in third place of the WCC standings. After the Gonzaga loss, the Broncos held on to beat Pacific at home before dropping a tough overtime game to Pepperdine. They rebounded last weekend with a road win over San Diego.
In the first match-up, Gonzaga scored a whopping 1.35 points per possession and had five players with 15+ points. Josip Vrankic was the only semblance of offense for Santa Clara, and he’s been on an absolute tear in WCC play. Over the last five games, the 6’8 forward is averaging 20.8 points and 6.4 rebounds.
Despite their size at several positions, Santa Clara is a surprisingly poor rebounding team. They are dead last in conference play in defensive rebound percentage and Gonzaga is tops in the league. If there’s one thing you probably don’t want to do against an explosive offense, it would be giving them more shots.
Of course, Santa Clara does have talent. And I still believe they finish in the top four next season, and perhaps even this season with a few breaks. Trey Wertz is averaging 13.4 points in league play, Tahj Eaddy is finally starting to come around, shooting 6-of-12 from deep the last three games, and DJ Mitchell is waiting for his breakout moment.
Santa Clara desperately needs Willie Caruso to get healthy to compete at the upper echelon of the conference, but they have the talent of a really solid and really young WCC squad. Is the combination of talent and past embarrassment enough to compete with the Bulldogs this time around? My answer has no credibility anymore, so argue amongst yourselves.