The No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs begin their march to the national championship with their first exhibition game over the Eastern Oregon Mountaineers, a familiar exhibition foe, on Sunday, Oct. 31, at 1:00 pm.
Meet the opponent
Eastern Oregon Mountaineers, 1-1, KenPom N/A
There is a surprising amount of intrigue around the Mountaineers for an exhibition game. For starters, they are embarking on a season with Interim Head Coach Chris Kemp. Kemp, a former assistant coach, took over for former head coach Carlito Labarda Jr. Labarda Jr. was let go in May this year after four years at the helm in which he posted a 61-49 record.
Here is another surprising story: there is a former Zag on this roster. Paul Pennington (who also just happens to be Kevin Pangos brother-in-law) was a walk-on for the Zags in the 2018-19 season. He transferred to Eastern Oregon and is now a member of the men’s basketball squad.
Third interesting tidbit: Senior guard Max McCullough is Eastern Oregon’s all-time leading scorer, averaging 21.1 points per game last season en route to earning NAIA All-American honors. McCullough’s ability to score, in itself, should provide a nice little test for the Zags in this tune-up game.
What to watch out for
Seriously though. The Zags are No. 1 in the nation, but compared to last year, there are a lot more unknowns about this team. For example, who is the starting five today? Who will be the starting five tomorrow? Even without Mark Few on the sideline (first game of his suspension), we will get a quick insight into the minute distribution and who has been impressing in practice. It’ll take more than one exhibition game to answer a lot of our questions, but it will be a start.
New team, new rim protection.
If you are on social media at all, you are most likely aware that Drew Timme was in the gym all offseason long. With Timme coming back for his junior year so quickly, it’s pretty clear he knows what he needs to work on to make it into the NBA. One of those things is lateral quickness. Timme doesn’t have the length to be an elite rim protector at any stage in the game, but what one lacks in length, they can make up with quickness and proper instincts. Last season, Timme was a liability (and alone on an island) in terms of being the lone big man.
This season, with uber-kid Chet Holmgren at his side, the Zags have five more fouls to spare. Timme has two things to work on this season: expanding his range and cementing his defense. Let’s see if that offseason of work translates into anything new.
A rocking Kennel.
There are random times I suddenly have an empathetic outpouring for random losses of this pandemic. I think about seniors in the graduating class of 2020 who largely missed out on their proms, graduations, senior nights, etc. Just a whole lot of (up until that point) massive life milestones just evaporated into the air. It boggles my mind that last season, there was college basketball played with nary a fan in Spokane. The fact that Corey Kispert’s and Joel Ayayi’s final season in Spokane took place in empty arenas, and that Jalen Suggs, the most electrifying player in a GU uniform, could only hear the fans scream through their television sets constantly tugs at my heartstrings. No more. We may not be completely out of this pandemic, but at least the Kennel is working again.