West Coast Conference play is off to an inauspicious start. Four different schools are on Covid pause, postponing four different WCC games between Thursday and Saturday. Pepperdine was supposed to open with games against BYU and Saint Mary’s, but their pause earlier in the week stopped both games. As of now, Pepperdine, Pacific, Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara, LMU, Portland, and Pacific all open their conference seasons next Thursday. Gonzaga is lucky enough to play a team that isn’t on pause, the USF Dons.
Meet the Opponent
San Francisco Dons: 7-4 (1-0 in WCC), KenPom #77
Because of those Covid postponements, San Francisco is one of two teams to play a pair of games on opening weekend of WCC play. They beat San Diego on Thursday, 70-62, thanks to a big second half from Jamaree Bouyea. They have wins over Virginia and Nevada, but also weird losses to UMass Lowell and a Cal team they probably should beat. Last season, USF gave Gonzaga three incredibly tough games. The Dons led with under five minutes to go in their game on the Hilltop, they led by eight at halftime in Spokane, and they were within a possession for the entirety of the WCC semi-final contest. In short, the Dons play Gonzaga well.
What to Watch For
The Three Point Line
San Francisco shoots an outrageous number of threes and they refuse to let their opponents shoot any. They are top 15 in the nation in threes attempted, with over 50 percent of their field goal attempts coming from behind the line. If there’s any way for a good team to compete with an elite one, it’s to drain a bunch of threes. USF is coming off their worst shooting night of the season, going just 6-for-20 from deep against the Toreros.
On the defensive end, they give up only 28 percent of shot attempts from deep and teams are shooting just 27 percent on those shots. Luckily for Gonzaga, their game isn’t predicated on making threes. They get to the rim with relentless abandon. USF doesn’t have Jimbo Lull inside to counter Drew Timme anymore. Instead, they have a trio of 6’9 forwards who may all see time trying to guard him. It will be interesting to see how they alter their game plan to stop Gonzaga from driving. Last season, out of Gonzaga’s 14 worst offensive ratings, three of them came against the Dons. Todd Golden will have something up his sleeve.
Jalen Suggs Watch
Gonzaga’s freshman phenom has missed the last two games with a right leg injury. He was limping around in shootarounds and pre-game warm-ups, but it doesn’t appear to be anything serious long-term. It feels like 50/50 at this point on whether or not Suggs will suit up on Saturday or take another few days to rest. Without him, Joel Ayayi has stepped up and had two of the better games of his career. He broke out of a shooting slump, going 7-for-9 from deep and recorded two double-doubles. It will be interesting to see if his aggressiveness changes whenever Suggs returns to the lineup.
Game: Gonzaga vs San Francisco
Time: Saturday, 7 pm pacific (update: slid to 5 pm)
TV: ESPN2 (Jon Sciambi and Fran Fraschilla)
KenPom: Gonzaga 91-73