The Gonzaga Bulldogs kick off West Coast Conference play against the up and coming Pepperdine Waves on Saturday afternoon.
Gonzaga is coming off a solid win against a NAIA team, solid in the sense that the defense was locked in and the offense showcased some needed bright spots. Pepperdine is coming off a loss to the Iona Gaels on Christmas.
Meet the opponent
Pepperdine Waves, 7-7, KenPom #142
After an utterly disastrous season as one of the worst and youngest teams in the WCC last year, the Waves are looking much improved as they enter the fifth season of the Lorenzo Romar era, and with their top four scorers either freshmen or sophomores, the future looks bright in Malibu.
The Waves are led by sophomore winger Maxwell Lewis, who has established himself as one of the best players in the conference. Lewis is averaging 19.4 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game, while shooting nearly 39 percent from long range. He draws fouls and the Zags will have to ensure he is not penetrating on open drives to the hoop.
The sophomore backcourt guards of Houston Mallette and Mike Mitchell have performed admirably for their second season. Mitchell’s outside shot has taken a large leap forward this season and he is hitting nearly 47 percent from afar. As a team, the Waves are pretty good at shooting three pointers, so the game will be a solid test for the Zags’ perimeter defense. The Zags cannot allow Pepperdine to get a large quantity of open looks from long range, because there is a good chance they will be burned.
Another key player to watch is freshman Jevon Porter, a recruiting coup for Romar this season. Porter is the younger brother of the NBA’s Michael Porter Jr. and the G League’s Jontay Porter. Jevon Porter, at a lengthy 6’11, is averaging 10.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He is still putting together the finer points of his offensive game, but has established himself as a solid interior presence. He has the athletic ability to alter shots on the defensive end, and he will be an interesting matchup to try and defend Drew Timme.
What to watch out for
Can the Zags establish the outside shot?
Pepperdine’s defense is remarkably stingy and they are one of the better teams at limiting the number of three-point attempts each game. This translates to a pretty decent two point percent defense, ranked No. 69 in the country. Pepperdine will have its hands full just trying to account for Drew Timme, but if the Zags aren’t making outside shots, they can stuff the paint and make things more difficult for Gonzaga’s mustachioed hero.
Let the good times roll for Rasir Bolton.
Sure, he only went 1-for-4 from long range, but Rasir Bolton finished with 14 points against Eastern Oregon, his second time with double-digit points in three games. The Zags need his offense and Bolton was in a rather prolonged slump throughout much of December. Like all good scorers, he just needs to shoot through it. Getting a boost against the likes of Eastern Oregon can go a long way. Hopefully, Bolton can string together another nice game against Pepperdine and get some momentum going.
We should see some good WCC games this season.
Betting Gonzaga runs the table on the WCC this season probably isn’t smart money. Maybe Pepperdine isn’t going to be the team that ruins those dreams, but for all of the dismissiveness of conference foes many Gonzaga fans exude day in and day out, the fact of the matter is that the WCC is improved this year. Which seems a weird thing to say after three teams went to the NCAA Tournament last year. However, last year’s conference was top-heavy and bottom-heavy with zero middle class. This year, although San Francisco and BYU have fallen off a bit, the overall conference is much improved.
For example, this year, Pepperdine is the fourth-worst KenPom rated team at No. 141. Last year, that was San Diego, at No. 232. Pacific is currently the only sub-200 KenPom team. Last year, four squads finished the year ranked lower than 200.
That means we shouldn’t be seeing too many 30-point blowouts that we have become accustomed to throughout the past five years. Not good for the blood pressure when the game is closer, but makes watching WCC play much more entertaining as well.