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Game Preview: Gonzaga vs. Merrimack

Zags look to get right against steals happy Warriors

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 04 Battle In Seattle - Alabama v Gonzaga Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a week to forget, the Zags start their bounce back against the Merrimack Warriors from North Andover, Massachusetts. Gonzaga plays their last high-profile nonconference game in 10 days against Texas Tech, who won an ugly game against 13th ranked Tennessee on Tuesday night. No line has been set yet for the matchup against Merrimack, but the Bulldogs will likely be big favorites on the Draftkings board. Gonzaga is favored by 27 points according to KenPom.

Meet the Opponent

Merrimack Warriors, 4-6, KenPom #259

The Warriors are from the Northeast Conference, ranked 29th out of 32 conferences by KenPom. The conference preseason poll predicted Merrimack to finish 5th in the 10 team conference. They have yet to beat someone ranked higher than them in KenPom, with their lone top 50 game resulting in a 72-43 loss to Virginia Tech. Though their record and offense don’t necessarily jump out at you, the Warriors do have a rather interesting defense when it comes to on-ball pressure and disrupting passing lanes. They rank ninth in the country in steal rate and rank 22nd in the country in steals per game, which is notable because of the slow-as-molasses pace they like to play (350th adjust tempo in KenPom). They’re led by forward Jordan Minor and guard Mikey Watkins who average 14.1 points, 1.8 steals and 9.4 points, 2.4 steals respectively.

What to watch for

Ball control and limiting turnovers

Taking care of the ball was an issue for the last week and a half, with the Zags averaging 15 turnovers over their last three games. They hit their season average in their Battle in Seattle loss with 12, but ball control will be at a premium in this game considering the pace Merrimack will want to run. Though, it is worth noting that the Warriors do not have the offensive firepower to fully capitalize on Gonzaga’s mistakes. Still, for this to truly be a get-right week of basketball, the Zags need to show improvement here not just with their guards but especially with any offensive initiation from the frontcourt.

Look at the minutes

The armchair coaching that occurred after the Alabama loss had a lot of fans looking at minutes and rotations as a possible reason for the Zags not finding a way to stick around with the Crimson Tide. Andrew Nembhard has played 37.5 minutes per game over the last four games. Gonzaga should have no trouble handling the Warriors and this game should be an opportunity to give game time to a second unit that could be incredibly important when the level of competition is raised again.

Let the big men cook or go with the four-guard lineup?

We’ve seen the star-studded frontcourt look greatly uncomfortable over the last week or so. They should be able to feast against a Merrimack team that peaks at 6-foot-8. However, the high steal rate may push the coaches to consider tinkering with the four-guard lineup with seen a little bit over the last couple of games. How Gonzaga handles the pressure from a team that’s good at steals and not a whole lot else will be interesting.