The No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs face off against the No. 5 Texas Longhorns tomorrow. When possible, we also try and find the insight of some experts of our opponents to provide an inside look at the next Gonzaga foe.
A big thank you to Cody Daniel over at SB Nation’s Texas site Burnt Orange Nation for taking the time out of his day to answer our questions.
SSF: Big name new head coach for Texas this year. Shaka Smart was never able to replicate his success at VCU when he came to Texas. What is the overall feeling in the fanbase for the Chris Beard era and what are the expectations for his tenure?
CD: I’d say the overall feeling is one of excitement. As Shaka Smart struggled in recent years, Texas fans have had their eyes on Chris Beard, so there’s excitement about what he can do in Austin with all of those resources, and he’s already built an excellent roster. I think the expectation is that he can be a guy who coaches Texas over that tournament hump and actually wins a few games when it matters in March, not just this season, but consistently.
SSF: Texas is the No. 5 team in the country according to the preseason AP poll. They also have a lot of new faces in the mix (seven transfers!). Do you think Texas is a top 5 team in the country right now, or is that ranking more an indication of where they will be at as the season progresses?
CD: Well, preseason rankings are typically based on paper and potential. Texas is loaded on paper and has a ton of potential, but do I think they’re actually the No. 5 team right now? No. They’ll be good, to be sure, but with how much roster turnover there was, they might not become a great group until later in the season with time to mesh.
SSF: This is obviously a very high-level game for both Gonzaga and Texas early in their seasons. Like Texas, Gonzaga has a lot of new faces that are still figuring out how to play together. What are some of the things Texas fans will be learning about their team early on?
CD: The main thing will be the rotation and chemistry. Nearly all of Texas’ roster can touch the floor and make an impact, but Beard will have to figure out which rotations complement each other best and how to integrate several bodies into that so he’s making the most of his roster and maximizing skill sets. With that, we’re going to learn how these players as individuals can respond to that and how much they’ll be willing to sacrifice to win, because roles are going to get reduced.
SSF: The Zags probably boast the best frontcourt in the nation between Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren. What, if anything, can Texas do to attempt to slow down the Zags star big men?
CD: The good news for Texas is Timme and Holmgren are more skilled players, rather than bruisers who beat you up down low, which Texas just doesn’t have the size to handle. As is, Beard’s a defensive-minded coach who will try to make everything difficult, so I’d expect him to try to make everyone else beat Texas and focus on throwing athletes at Timme and Holmgren with consistent doubles and live with the results.
SSF: Gonzaga enters this game favored just by nature of being the higher ranked team. What does Texas need to accomplish to pull off the “upset?”
CD: At the risk of sounding like I’m oversimplifying it, just play together. The biggest question for Texas is how well Beard can get all these talented pieces to become a team. Texas’ starting lineup will likely have five guys who won all-conference honors last season, and several of their bench players have started before. If and when this team gels, they’re going to be dangerous, but doing so in time to beat Gonzaga is a huge task.
SSF: On the flip side to that question, what do you think the Zags need to pull off to win the game?
CD: It was only a scrimmage against a much lesser team, but it’s already clear that Beard is going to have Texas on point defensively. That much is to be expected given his coaching tendencies The offense is largely where the question mark is until they develop some chemistry. So, to answer your question, I’d say slow the game way down and play patient, efficient offense against an aggressive Texas defense, which will put more pressure on the Horns’ offense to respond with efficient offense of its own, rather than running and letting their athletes work. And again, that part is going to take some time.
You didn’t ask for a prediction lol, but I’ve got Gonzaga 79-73.