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Gonzaga Preview

NCAA Basketball: St. Mary’s at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

For some reason Kansas is playing a basketball game in the midst of a pandemic in Florida against a team from Washington, but I guess TV contracts beckon and capitalism marches on.

On the court, it’s the type of matchup that fans both neutral and interested would be salivating over if not for everything going on in the world. Gonzaga is preseason #1 or #2 virtually everywhere you look. Last year the Bulldogs won the WCC and appeared en route to a #1 seed and a collision course with the Jayhawks in the national title game - until Covid shut everything down (except we’re now playing again despite the pandemic being worse than it was in March but anyway).

Offensively Gonzaga is a nightmare matchup for just about everyone. They didn’t take a ton of threes last year, but were extremely efficient at both twos and threes while not turning the ball over often. Some of that is probably due to getting to play a bunch of WCC teams, but they did shoot almost 55 percent against top 50 competition last season and still took care of the ball relatively well, so they’re going to score on pretty much anyone (except the 2019-20 Jayhawks).

Sadly, I think last year’s Kansas team would have been a great matchup for the Zags because, while Kansas gave up a lot of three-point attempts, Gonzaga didn’t take many, and KU’s 2-point defense was among the best in the country. This year, however, it figures to be a bit easier to score on Kansas inside even though the Jayhawks should be a little better at taking away three-point attempts.

Defensively Gonzaga struggled a bit more, especially against the better teams on their schedule. With a KU team putting a bunch of players into new roles and having some new personnel in the lineup altogether, it should still be a challenge for the Jayhawks to score tomorrow. However, with some new personnel themselves, including star freshman Jalen Suggs and Florida transfer Andrew Nembhard, it is a bit of a mystery thus far as to how Gonzaga will play defensively. I assume the Jayhawks will be running a lot of their weave game, trying to get favorable matchups going downhill to the rim.

Players to Watch

Corey Kispert, 6-7 senior wing

Kispert has been one of the best inside-outside threats in college basketball for the last couple years. He is a career 40ish percent shooter from deep and also over 50 percent on twos. In years past this would be a prime candidate to have Marcus Garrett shadow him all game, but it remains to be seen how Bill Self will deploy him with Garrett’s added offensive responsibilities this year.

Drew Timme, 6-10 sophomore forward

Speaking of tough covers, Timme shot 62 percent on twos last season and got to the line a ton. We were robbed of a Timme-Azubuike showdown last year, but what a way for David McCormack to get introduced to the starting big man position. Timme is also a really nice passer for his size, and can handle it a bit as well, so he’s not just a back-to-the-basket scorer by any means. He’s not a great free throw shooter, and gets into foul trouble himself, so the best move might be to have McCormack go all McCormack on him.

Andrew Nembhard, 6-5 junior guard

The Florida transfer just got cleared this week, and should provide a hell of a 1-2 punch in Gonzaga’s backcourt. He had an assist rate over 30 percent for the Gators last year while not turning it over a ton, so he’ll definitely be a tough cover. He’s probably the guy Kansas will want shooting it, as he is just under a 33 percent shooter from three for his career (although shooting 77 percent from the line does portend some possible improvement).

The Pick

I have seen Gonzaga at -3 in most spots, so that’s the line I’ll go with here. Ideally, I’d pick “not playing basketball for free until there is either a vaccine or effective treatment for Covid,” but that would be a major loser.

Gonzaga is preseason #1 or #2 everywhere you look for a reason. They’re talented, well-coached, and even though they lost some talent, more experienced than the Jayhawks. With Kansas losing one of the best point guards in the country and the best player in the country off last year’s team, I think that puts them a little too far behind the eight-ball to start the season.

So, I’ll take Gonzaga in a lower-scoring-than-you-might-expect 72-63 game.