clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

#5 UConn vs #10 Gonzaga Preview

Battle in Seattle on Friday at 7 PM PT on ESPN2, be there or be square.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - West Regional Photo by Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

It has been a stressful week for Gonzaga not only with finals but preparing for their rematch against UConn. If you remember, the Huskies rolled over the Zags in the Elite Eight last March, 82-54. Revenge is for sure on the mind. Gonzaga is still looking for a Quad 1 victory (0-2) and what better opportunity to get the first of the season than against the Huskies.

Here are my keys to a Gonzaga victory over the reigning national champions:

- Crash the glass, win the rebounding battle. This wasn’t the case in the two losses this season (vs Purdue, @ Washington).

- Hit your three-pointers. The looks have been there recently, just got to get them to fall. 10-42 3PT (23.8 3PT%) through the last two games will not cut it.

- Dusty Stromer needs to continue to stay aggressive. The freshman may be 2-11 from the field and 1-9 from deep over his last two games but those shots will eventually start to go in. Continue to be active on defense/in the passing lanes and it’ll pay off on the other end.

- Look for Ryan Nembhard to improve his decision making. He has a tendency to get going so fast downhill and then put himself in a tough spot with a bad outlet or forcing a pass into too tight of a window. Needs to be more precise and consistent with his passing when going that quick.

- Play motivated as a whole unit for a full 40 minutes. Not 20. Not 30.

UConn’s record -

9-1 (W vs Northern Arizona, W vs Stonehill, W vs Mississippi Valley State, W vs Indiana, W vs #15 Texas, W vs Manhattan, W vs New Hampshire, L @ #5 Kansas, W vs #9 North Carolina, W vs Arkansas-Pine Bluff)

Key stats -

87.4 PPG (13th in the nation)

63.2 points allowed

50.9 FG%

33.6 3P%

72.1 FT%

41.9 RPG (tied for 31st in the nation)

18.9 APG (12th in the nation)

6.6 SPG

5.9 BPG (14th in the nation)

9.8 TO

KenPom rankings -

#4 overall

121.9 adjusted offensive efficiency (#4)

93.8 adjusted defensive efficiency (#16)

Key players to watch for -

Stephen Castle (freshman, guard) - 9.8 PPG on 62.7 FG%, 5.3 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.5 SPG

Castle recently came back from a knee injury after sitting out for multiple weeks. It’s been a slow return to the court for him against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and North Carolina but the freshman is still capable of making plays with the ball in his hands. He changes directions and speeds with one singular move in the blink of an eye. Castle is smooth and coordinated for his size which gives him the ability to maneuver his body through traffic. At 6’6” and 215 pounds, he is the prototypical combo guard or wing with ball-handling skills in the NBA.

Donovan Clingan (sophomore, center) - 13.2 PPG on 54.5 FG%, 6.0 RPG, 2.0 BPG

One of the shining stars from last year’s NCAA Tournament run will throw similar problems that Zach Edey gave the Zags earlier this season. Clingan makes one of the biggest impacts on the interior defense in college basketball with his 7’3” height and 7’7” wingspan. He’s a massive man with quiet feet, soft set of hands, and has good timing/jumps straight up when acting as a rim protector. Clingan will be an elite shot blocker at the next level.

Alex Karaban (sophomore, forward) - 15.6 PPG on 54.5 FG%, 6.2 RPG, 1.0 BPG

Karaban is one of the more experienced and confident players on the roster after starting 38 of the 39 games on the 2022-2023 squad. He possesses the ability to hit big shots in big moments for the Huskies. Deep range and dynamic footwork in the post is the name of his game.

Tristen Newton (senior, guard) - 17.0 PPG on 47.2 FG%, 7.2 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.5 SPG

Newton was overshadowed by the amount of talent on last year’s UConn team (Hawkins, Jackson Jr., Sanogo). He is truly the complete point guard in the basketball scene today. A skilled playmaker/athlete who can score in a variety of ways while working his way into the NBA Draft picture. If he can be more of a consistent shooter going forward, he definitely can enter that discussion after this season.

Trying to stop two potential Top 10 in the upcoming NBA Draft (four capable NBA Draft picks overall) is a tall task, I’m aware. UConn has a great mix of young talent and returning veterans from last year’s March Madness run in both the backcourt and frontcourt. The Huskies have one of the best starting units from top-to-bottom in the country.

This is the type of Top 10 matchup that can impact NCAA Tournament seeding in a major way for Gonzaga and turn a season around after a disappointing loss to Washington.

Arden Cravalho is a Gonzaga University graduate from the Bay Area... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho