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Gonzaga vs. Coppin State game preview: Zags Return To Spokane To Take On Eagles

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After a 2-1 performance in Maui that resulted in a consolation championship, Gonzaga returns to the McCarthey Athletic Center...

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Maui Invitational was a mixed bag for the Gonzaga Bulldogs.  A surrendered 16 point lead which turned into an eventual loss to Dayton in the opening round got the tournament off to a less than awesome start but, after that game, the Zags were very stellar.  Following the loss to the Flyers, Gonzaga dispatched the host program, Chaminade, with ease and then moved on to the consolation championship game against a very tough Arkansas team.  Under Mike Anderson, the Razorbacks are one of the more physically imposing teams in the country but Mark Few's team withstood their pressure defense to grab a 10 point win as the Zags took the consolation championship.

Meet the opponent

Coppin State Eagles (2-3), KenPom 286

Coppin State has challenged itself greatly in the opening month of the 2013-14 season.  With only five games played, three of them have been against top-100 KenPom ranked teams in Cal, Oregon State, and most recently Michigan.  In that stretch, the Eagles have managed to pull off one win against OSU in Corvalis.  They kept it decently close against Cal but were completely waxed by Michigan in their most recent contest.

With a KenPom rating of nearly 300, it goes without saying that the Eagles should not provide much resistance to the Zags on Sunday.  In fact, this is a matchup that could swing well into the Bulldogs favor because of some very key factors.  First of all, Coppin State is very undersized and struggles to rebound the basketball.  They are currently 266th in rebounds per game which is slightly worse than the Zags who are currently at 245th.  Part of the reason for Coppin State's struggles on the glass is due to the fact that they largely employ a zone defense under head coach Fang Mitchell.  This zone defense should benefit the Zags as Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell have gotten off to scorching starts this season from beyond the arc.

What to watch for

For Coppin State, the one player that should strike fear into the hearts of fans is Sterling Smith.  He's a bigger guard at 6'4'' and has averaged nearly 16 points per game for the Eagles.  He has shown the ability to hit from beyond the arc and has had a blistering start to the season, shooting 50% from three and 59% from the floor.  He'll likely be shadowed by Gary Bell for a majority of the contest but if Gary gets in foul trouble early, Sterling could make this much more of a game than it needs to be.

As I mentioned earlier, this will be a battle of weaknesses as both teams are near the bottom of the stat sheet in rebounding.  For the Zags, the complete focus of tonight should be on not allowing second and third opportunities for Coppin State because that is a sure fire way for a large underdog to stay in the game.  The Eagles' leading rebounder, Arnold Fripp, stands at just 6'7'' so Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower should have a clear advantage on the glass.  In addition to Sam and Przemek, the Zags should be bolstered by the debut of freshman Ryan Edwards.  The massive center from Montana was sidelined due to having his tonsils removed but he should provide quality minutes in the post for Gonzaga.

While Coppin State has shown the ability to keep things close against BCS teams, I expect this one to be a drubbing as Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell should be able to hit from deep early and often.  I wouldn't expect Ryan Edwards to get a lot of minutes but it will be good to see what he can bring from a rebounding perspective.  In the end, this should be a 25-30 point win for the Zags with a lot of time for the walk-ons to get some run.