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Gonzaga vs. Northern Illinois: Game Preview

Time for a Monday evening cupcake.

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs face their second-straight Husky when Northern Illinois comes to town on Monday evening.

The Zags are coming off a tidy win over the Washington Huskies on Friday evening. Drew Timme scored 22 points and Julian Strawther added 18. The Northern Illinois Huskies, n the fourth game of a five-game road trip, lost to Idaho, 84-47, on Friday.

Meet the opponent

Northern Illinois Huskies, 3-6, KenPom #311

This is the second night of MAC-tion in Gonzaga’s non-conference schedule (Kent State was the other). Unlike the Kent State game, however, Northern Illinois is not a good team. They have some scorers in junior guard Keshawn Williams, who leads the team with 17.4 points per game, sophomore guard David Colt (14 ppg), and sophomore guard Zarique Nutter (12.5 ppg). After that, the drop-off is steep. The fourth-leading scorer on the team is senior guard Kaleb Thornton at 4.3 points per game.

Head coach Rashon Burno loves to trot out a deep bench, so there will be a rotating cast of characters on the court. But largely, with what little hope they might have, the Huskies only chance of victory is if those three players absolutely go off and the supporting cast joins in the fun.

What to watch out for

The Zags have needed a cupcake.

The Zags are currently ranked No. 11 in KenPom, their first time out of the top 10 for years. The issues have been obvious all season. In reality, the Zags have needed a game or two against a team like Northern Illinois to work out some of those kinks, get a little bit of good motivation, etc. However, the schedule has not allowed for that. Gonzaga’s non-conference slate so far is the fifth-toughest in the country. The top four teams? Texas Southern (KP #252), Arkansas Pine Bluff (KP #354), Florida A&M (KP #359), and Bellarmine (KP #228).

With what we had become accustomed to as a “normal” non-conference schedule—lots of stellar games in neutral places and a slate of garbage at home—Gonzaga’s issues would be slightly masked by the quality of opponents, something you can work on in real-time early in the season and still see dubs in the record. With Gonzaga’s schedule this year, that isn’t the case. I, for one, am looking forward to an easy win.

A chance for Rasir Bolton to break out of his slump.

Against the Huskies, Gonzaga had only two players score in double-figures for the first time all season. Granted, that is an arbitrary stat because there have been multiple times this season that the third only scored 10/11 points. Still, the point stands—the offense is still looking a little bit rough at the moment.

Enter cupcakes. This is exactly the sort of game to hope Rasir Bolton, who is currently mired in a little mini-slump at 7-for-19, can put up some shots on the board. The Zags need a consistent third scorer beyond Strawther and Timme and it needs to come from one of the guards. Malachi Smith’s transfer has been a bit rough around the edges. Hickman’s consistency isn’t quite there yet. If we can expect 12-14 points per night from Bolton, that goes a long way in helping this squad out.

Turnovers. Don’t do them.

The Zags have a turnover issue this season, but things are hopefully trending in the right direction. After turning the ball over nearly a quarter of the time against Baylor, the Zags TO% against Kent State dropped to 13.1 and it was 17.1 against Washington. Both of those teams’ defenses force turnovers, so those lower numbers are good.

Northern Illinois doesn’t force turnovers at an above-average rate, so it will be interesting to see where Gonzaga’s numbers land on this. Part of the Zags’ issue can be chalked up to facing stellar defenses, but that excuse does not work versus the eye test. Gonzaga consistently makes lazy passes, bad offensive fouls, etc. Gonzaga should finish the game against Northern Illinois with less than 10 turnovers, something they’ve only accomplished twice this season.