Gonzaga plays one more tool-up game prior to their Vegas residency over the following three games. The Bulldogs will give their defense an interesting challenge in slowing down and solving the Bellarmine Knights’ pass-over-dribble offense.
Meet the opponent
Bellarmine Knights (0-3), KenPom #185
The Knights are in just their second season of Division I basketball but do not let the lack of history fool you. Despite a season disjointed by COVID protocols and a season they were picked to finish last in the Atlantic Sun Conference, they went 10-3 in the conference and finished second to Liberty.
A big reason for the team’s success is the nonstop ball movement and team-centric offensive system implemented by head coach Scott Davenport. Davenport has been with the program since 2005 and led Bellarmine to win the Division II national championship in 2011. The Knights move the ball rather than dribbling, with more passes than even an NBA offense in a full regulation game (40 minutes opposed to the NBA’s 48). When things break down, often the lead guard Dylan Penn will become a ball-dominant guard waiting for anyone to break free from their man.
The offense is fascinating, with plenty of off-ball screens on the weak side resulting in limitless cuts and backdoors, though not necessarily unsolvable. They were dropped by fellow top 10 Purdue once the Boilermakers figured things out 15 minutes into the first half and ended up winning 96-67. A similar story happened with Murray State, who broke free with a little over 3 minutes left in the first half, outsourcing the Knights by 16 in the second and winning 78-59.
Bellarmine had their first close game against Saint Mary’s on Wednesday, sticking with the Gaels to the close of the game, ultimately losing 73-64. The Gaels weren’t able to pull away in large part to a miserable perimeter shooting night making 5-25 for 20%.
What to watch for
How do the young guards adapt to a new style?
After an incisive and active night on both ends from freshman Hunter Sallis against Alcorn State, it will be interesting to see how he and fellow freshman Nolan Hickman respond to some peculiar looks from the opposing offense. Both Hickman and Sallis have elite court vision and lane reading, so an early test can only help them develop further before some major games in Sin City.
Will this be a breakout game for Chet Holmgren?
Holmgren had a phenomenal debut but hasn’t had much padding on his stats in the last two games while still exhibiting a clear impact. Holmgren is likely to see a decent amount of playing time and should be an absolute force against a team relying on cutting to the basket.
Additionally, considering the lack of athleticism for Bellarmine, the Zags may face a lot of preventative defense trying to force them to settle for outside shots. If they don’t fall, Holmgren may be asked to break the defense with his passing up high. Finding good looks for Holmgren could also help him battle in those UCLA and Duke matchups.