#12 Gonzaga Bulldogs (7-2) at Washington Huskies (7-2)
Two teams coming off very different games will matchup in a contest featuring two of the best teams on the west coast this year.
The Zags come into this one after getting thrashed by the Villanova Wildcats in Madison Square Garden. It was a sobering affair for Zags fans as the Cats dominated the game from the tip.
The Huskies, on the other hand, come in fresh off a shocking upset of number two ranked Kansas. The Huskies went into Allen Field House as 22-point underdogs and walked out with a 74-65 win.
Tipoff is scheduled for 5:00 PM PST from Hec Ed Arena in Seattle, Washington. The Gonzaga Bulldogs are -10-point favorites and the game total over-under is set at 155.5 points.
After a deep run in March that saw the Zags reach the National Finals last year, many wondered what kind of team the Zags would return with this year. They lost Zack Collins and Nigel Williams-Goss to the NBA and it looked like they might be rebuilding in Spokane this season.
Head coach Mark Few proved once again the Zags don’t rebuild, they reload. Few has his Gonzaga squad ranked number twelve in the country and looks to have one of the most talented and deep frontcourts in the country.
The frontcourt is led by the dynamic duo on Killian Tilly and Johnathan Williams. Both are threats to post a double-double every game and both can stretch the floor and shoot from the perimeter.
Jacob Larsen is the relief big man and the 6-11 230 pounder is looking great in limited action. Not many teams have this depth of skilled big men and they have led the Zags to some great early season wins over Ohio State, Texas, and Creighton.
The one glaring missing piece for the Zags though is at point guard. Josh Perkins has done a great job shooting the three, he is amongst the highest 3-point shooting percentage shooters in the country, but he struggles to bring the ball up under pressure. This cost the Zags the games against Florida and Villanova and almost cost them against Texas.
The Zags are badly missing the leadership and ball handling skills of Williams-Goss and until they can find someone to bring the ball up the court, the formula to beat the Zags has been laid out.
The Washington Huskies going into Kansas and winning on the road was shocking. Kansas just never loses at home in the non-conference, like ever. What was even more shocking about the upset is that Washington has been a team with limited expectations so far this season.
They played two decent teams in Providence and Virginia Tech and lost to both of them. Their biggest win of the season besides Kansas? UC Davis. One has to wonder if that game was just a fluke or if the Huskies are the real deal this year?
As is usually the case, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. Is Washington good enough to beat teams like Kansas on a consistent basis? Absolutely not. But if they get hot, can they play with any team in the country? It would appear so.
The Huskies have struggled against Gonzaga over the last decade or so. The Zags have won 10 of 11 against the interstate foe.
The Huskies use a balanced attacked that has four players averaging double-digit scoring. The scoring is led by guard Jaylen Nowell who is averaging over 18 points a contest.
On the defensive end, Washington is led by one of the better lockdown defenders in the country Matisse Thybulle. Thybulle is averaging 3.3 steals a game in the backcourt and I expect him to give Perkins a lot of trouble tonight.
I just don’t trust Josh Perkins. While he can shoot the ball, the Zags don’t really need him to score. They are a better team when the ball plays from inside out and they work a lot of down low post looks. All they really need from Perkins is to bring the ball up and facilitate and he just can’t do it.
I expect Thybulle to shut down Perkins and pressure him all night long. The Zags Achilles heel this season has been turnovers. They are averaging almost 14 a game and they are just too good of a team to be giving away the ball so often.
You do run the risk of a letdown game for the Huskies in this one. The Huskies win over Kansas is the biggest win in recent memory and they could come out a little flat. But in a home game against a hated rival like Gonzaga? I just don’t see that happening.
Do I think the Huskies are going to upset Gonzaga? No, I don’t. But do I think they are going to get blown out of their home court by a team that can’t bring the ball up the court? Nope.
This game should be competitive. The Huskies will force the Zags into sloppy play and keep this game closer than it should be. I think the Zags do enough, in the end, to gut it out and win, but I will be taking that big handful of points and backing the home team.
Give me the Washington Huskies and the points tonight from Seattle!