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Gonzaga vs. North Alabama: Game Preview

The Zags look to close out the non-conference on a strong note.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Arizona at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs put a close on their non-conference slate with a game against the North Alabama Lions on Tuesday, at 2:00 pm.

North Alabama are in their fourth season with a D-1 athletics program and have cobbled together a 7-5 record. Although they have lost most of their games to superior opponents, they did play a good UCF team pretty close on Dec. 22 and they boast a quality defense.

For Gonzaga, it is a pretty good way to end the non-conference.

Meet the opponent

North Alabama Lions, 7-5, KenPom #287

Despite the rather abysmal KenPom ranking, the Lions have a halfway pretty decent defense, which will be exactly what we are looking for the Zags to focus on as of late. “Halfway pretty decent” meaning specifically that of the “Four Factors,” the Lions are good at two of them: Holding opponents in field goal percentage and forcing turnovers. On the other two metrics (defensive rebounding and restricting free throws) they are abysmal.

On the offensive end, the Lions are a bit of a mess. They played a slowed down tempo and don’t have the scorers to make that work at all. They are ranked the third-lowest in two-point percentage at 39.4 percent as a team. Freshman guard Daniel Ortiz is the major scoring threat at 10.6 points per game, followed by junior guard Jamari Blackmon and senior guard C.J. Brim.

Although Ortiz is lethal from long range (46.8 percent), no one on this team is really a risk of making enough of an impact on the offensive end to pose a legitimate threat of an upset. On the defensive end, however, the Lions have the pieces they need to give the Zags some fits, and that is where this game will be worth watching.

What to watch for

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.

North Alabama is ranked No. 7 in the nation in non-steal turnover percentage. They are undersized at virtually every position, but they are relentlessly scrappy. Gonzaga has had its fair share of turnover issues at pretty much every position, but in the past two games, the Zags have been much improved on that front.

Let’s see if the Zags can make it three-for-three. The Lions aren’t going to have the size to aggressively confront the Zags’ guards at the half-court line, but they do just enough to make it hard for opposing teams to make good shots. They hold opponents to 44.5 percent from two (No. 37 in the nation) and are pretty adept at limiting assists to field goals made.

Gonzaga should win this game by a ton, but don’t be surprised if North Alabama is able to hang around in the first half.

Does the three-point hotness continue?

After their win over Merrimack, the Zags were shooting just 32.8 percent as a team from three-point range. After going a combined 23-for-55 in their past two games, that mark has increased to 34.9 percent.

We probably shouldn’t expect Gonzaga to shoot over 40 percent from three each game, but we also shouldn’t expect them to shoot 20 percent either. North Alabama will be a good litmus test for the Zags, as the Lions are pretty decent at minimizing the number of threes teams can attempt.

An overall continuation of good play.

The Zags had a rough week at the beginning of December but followed that up with a nice win over Texas Tech and a morale booster against Northern Arizona. Another game result like the Northern Arizona game is exactly what the doctor ordered as the Zags head into conference play, a year in which the WCC is the best it has been in quite some time.