The top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs begin their march to the national championship with a home opener against the Dixie State Trailblazers (soon to be Utah Tech University) on Tuesday, at 6:00 pm, to open college basketball.
This is the second time the Zags have met up against Dixie State, who is in their second season in D1 sports as part of the Western Athletic Conference.
Meet the opponent
Dixie State, 0-0, KenPom #328
Thanks to the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility, a majority of last season’s Dixie State roster returned, so extrapolating on their KenPom stats to start the season is roughly correct. The Trailblazers are led once again by junior guard Cameron Gooden and senior forward Hunter Schofield.
Last season, the Trailblazers played at a breakneck pace, averaging just 14.7 seconds per possession—the fifth-quickest mark in the NCAA. Of course, the rest of the offense wasn’t that good. As a team, their EFG% was only 45.5 percent, good for No. 319 in the nation.
However, this is a squad that does a couple of things well: They draw fouls and they pass the ball. Both Gooden and Schofield, in particular, are adept at attacking the rim and landing at the free throw line. Last season, they had an assist on each field goal made 61.7 percent of the time, the 10th-best mark in the nation.
What to watch out for
Can the Zags shoot the three?
Two games does not make a trend quite yet, so it is a small sample size. The Zags are shooting just 16-of-48 from long range (33 percent). Now, it isn’t fair to just remove makes from that amount, but, in the spirit of analysis, if you take out the makes/attempts by the walk-ons, that number drops to 12-of-41 (29.2 percent). In particular, the backcourt of Andrew Nembhard, Rasir Bolton, and Nolan Hickman has gone just 2-for-20 in the two exhibition games.
Chet Holmgren has demonstrated he has range. Strawther’s shot has been falling as well. But for the Zags to be an elite-level team, the backcourt needs to at least offer some sort of credible threat from long-range. If all of the defenders are sagging on the shooters and crowding the paint, it will be much harder for Drew Timme and Holmgren to go to work.
What about that starting lineup?
Judging from the two exhibition games, the four “solid” starters are Holmgren, Timme, Nembhard, and Bolton. For the most part, that should probably hold true throughout the entire season, with the fifth starter most likely fluctuating based on matchups and who is showing they are the hot hand. Against Eastern Oregon, we saw Strawther and against Lewis-Clark State it was Hickman earning the nod. Will we see Hunter Sallis earn the start tomorrow? He quietly put together two stellar exhibition outings. If anything, this question demonstrates the immense depth the Zags have this season.
How deep does the bench go?
Obviously, because they were exhibition games and everyone sees the floor for extended minutes, it does not mean much, but the starters roughly played 47 percent of the minutes against Eastern Oregon and 51 percent against Lewis-Clark State.
Is that going to stay true throughout the entire year? Of course not. The average for bench minutes in the NCAA last season was approximately 31 percent. The last Gonzaga squads to hit near those marks were the 2013 and the 2017 Zags.
In the exhibition games, both Kaden Perry and Ben Gregg looked good, especially when on the court together. Will those players earn meaningful minutes, in the first half or the second half? Dixie State should provide a bit more insight into how the roster will be managed this season. Few tends to run on the more conservative side, so it seems unlikely that we will see a full 10-man rotation this year.