The Gonzaga Bulldogs face off against a surprisingly hot San Diego Toreros team on Thursday. Surprisingly, thanks to earlier COVID cancellations, this is just the second true road game for the Zags this season.
Gonzaga is coming off a solid week, handily defeating Loyola Marymount and Portland. San Diego is rolling off a win over Pepperdine and a slightly closer win over Loyola Marymount.
Meet the opponent
San Diego Toreros, 13-9, KenPom #161
After a rough couple of years, a senior-laden roster has helped provide San Diego with quite a few wins this season (more than the total of the past two years), and they have done it by absolutely slowing down the tempo and grinding out games.
San Diego’s tempo ranks No. 298 in the county, averaging almost eight possessions less per game than the Zags. The defense is actually halfway decent. The Toreros don’t force a lot of turnovers, but they do deny the outside shot. San Diego only allows opponents to shoot 27 percent of their field goal attempts as three pointers, the second-lowest mark in the nation.
The big question, of course, is if the offense has enough to keep up with the Zags. The short answer is probably no. Senior forward Marcellus Earlington, a transfer from St. John’s, leads the team at 13.5 points per game, and senior guard Jase Townsend, a transfer from Denver, follows him up at 10.7 points per game. That is it for the double-digit scorers.
This is not a fluid offense, by any stretch. San Diego ranks No. 261 in the nation in eFG%. They register an assist on a field goal made just 41.3 percent of the time, good for No. 342 in the nation. They do not rely on the outside shot at all, with over 59 percent of their points coming as two-pointers, the 11th-highest mark in the country. That might be a tough task against the height of Gonzaga.
What to watch out for
Can San Diego keep it close?
Personally, I doubt it. But San Diego’s tempo, combined with a somewhat decent defense, pretty much ensures that we won’t see 100 points. The question is if San Diego is able to replicate some of the success we saw from teams such as San Francisco, Tarleton State, and others in slowing down the Zags and staying annoyingly close. The Toreros kept pace with BYU for quite a bit in late-January, an achievement that is less impressive considering BYU’s last week.
Are the eyes on the prize?
No offense to San Diego, but probably most of us have Saturday’s game at BYU as the one circled on our calendar. San Diego isn’t really good enough to qualify as a trap game, but they are potentially annoying enough to keep it closer than some of us would like. This probably will not be Tarleton State level close, but these are the pitfalls of the WCC, when the big away games matter the most.
Does the road crowd rattle the Zags?
Technically, Gonzaga didn’t play a single true road game all non-conference. Of course, the game against Duke was a pretty hearty Blue Devils crowd, and the game in Phoenix against Texas Tech probably had a decent amount of Red Raiders in attendance. Otherwise, it has been home cooking all season. Gonzaga finishes out conference play with six of its final nine games on the road, including the big ones at BYU, San Francisco, and Saint Mary’s.