SCOUTING THE BULLDOGS
Gonzaga does a lot of things well -- boring things, for the most part. While today's ESPN-watching, video game-playing couch potatoes idolize big dunks and profiling for the camera, Mark Few's squad gives that group nothing to watch. What it does deliver, though, is wins, and this season is no different. The Zags currently stand at 8-1 on the season, and are clearly on their way to another NCAA bid.
Stellar guard play has been a linchpin of the Bulldogs' success, and this year they have three that contribute in a variety of ways. Kevin Pangos (G, Jr., 6-2) leads the team with 19.8 points per game, and scores from both inside and out. He's a deadly three-point threat, making 50% of his tries, but he also has the ability to float shots into the hoop off drives. He's balanced 39 assists against his 106 shots to date, and is an all-around threat that is very difficult to control.
Fellow backcourt starter Gary Bell Jr. (G., Jr., 6-2) is even better from distance, hitting 26-48 from long range. He's a spot up shooter that must be accounted for both in the half court and in transition. Attacks in the latter offensive phase are often led by David Stockton (G, Sr., 5-11), son of NBA legend John Stockton. As might be expected, he leads the team with 44 assists.
Inside, Gonzaga is solid if not spectacular. Strong Sam Dower (F, Sr. 6-9) makes nearly 63% of his shots from the field, and complements that with an 84.8% shooting percentage from the free throw line. Przemek Karnowski (C, So., 7-1) is just as effective, makign the most of his five shots per game to average nearly nine per outing while also leading the team with 7.6 rebounds per game.
If The 'Dogs have one weakness, it's depth. Gerard Coleman (G, Jr., 6-4), Drew Barham (G, 6-7, Sr.) and Kyle Dranginis (G, So., 6-5) get almost all of the backup time. Coleman is productive, scoring 11 points per game in his 15 mintutes of time, and the latter two do add nearly 14 combined, but none are nearly as good as the starters. They can spot up and shoot, but don't have anything approximating Pangos' flair or Bell's drop-dead scoring ability.
Watching Gonzaga on offense is like watching a coaching clinic DVD. The Bulldogs pass the ball as well as any team in the nation, and by doing so quickly and accurately put tremendous pressure on the defense.
The result of this is an offense that makes almost 55% of its shots -- an unheard of level of accuracy. The reason for that? Almost all of the shots are very good ones. The guards pass and cut, work off screens and pass, and skip or reverse the ball to find open shooters or clear paths to the hoop. And when the defense moves to cut those lanes off, the bigs are excellent at repositioning and making themselves available for passes, or in the case of Dower, posting up and scoring against single coverage.
9:00 PM E
Morgantown, W. Va.
WVU 6-3, 0-0
GU 8-1, 0-0
WVU - 81
GU - 27
What can West Virginia do to combat this? Probably not a lot. It's not experienced enough or patient enough to defend the length of the shot clock consistently, and it hasn't shown the ability to cover multiple shooters on the perimeter against any of its foes this year. That doesn't mean this is a hopeless case, but in all likelihood the Mountaineers are going to need some help. Gonzaga isn't likely to throw it around (they have just 90 turnovers this year) so WVU is probably gong to need for the Zags to miss a few shots it usually makes.
On the other end of the court, West Virginia has to show patience. It can't settle for the first shot that's available, or try to create space to shoot from outside off the dribble. It has to trust the offensive scheme and try to emulate the Zags' passing excellence. That's a lot to expect from a team that still is struggling to learn all the ins and outs of the college game.
WVU might also hope that the Bulldogs are affected by travel, but the late start time does help the visitors. Were this a noon game on a Saturday, the Zags would be facing a 9:00 a.m. body clock start. Instead, they'll be able to acclimate for most of the day before taking the court. Still, they did have a late night Saturday game against New Mexico State, which left just Sunday and a short part of Monday to rest and prepare for WVU before flying across the country.
West Virginia has made a huge social media push to boost attendance for this game, with tweets, retweets and retweets of retweets galore. It's also pushed multiple graphics and videos on its website to try to amp up interest. Oddly enough, though, neither school had a media release available on its site the night before the game.
Even if it does get a respectable crowd, there's no guarantee that it will have an effect. In addition to being very lightly attended, the fans in attendance so far this year have been as vocal as Tibetan monks. Sure, those in the stands might generate some enthusiasm at the start of the game, but if things go wrong or West Virginia hits a rough stretch, there will be far more people sitting on their hands than there will be those still up and cheering.
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West Virginia's Eron Harris is shooting better from three-point range (51%) than overall from the field (46.7%). Take Harris' three-pointers out of the rate, and he has made just 31 of 71 two-pointers. While he's a creator and scorer who is always going to play on the edge of control, the numbers here show that he has forced some shots and not been as patient as he needs to be in the offense.
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Gonzaga typically does well with foreign players, and this year is no exception. In addition to Pangos, who hails from Ontario, Canada, the Zags feature players from Poland (Karnowski) and Brazil (Leo Roese). Karnowski also has one of the best-named alma maters of anyone in college hoops. In Torun, Poland, he attended Nicolaus Copernicus.
The Spokane campus has also proved to be an attractive transfer destination, as GU has welcomed Angel Nunez (Louisville) and Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky). Nunez will be eligible in just ten more days, while Wiltjer can't hit the court until next season.
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When WVU plays man-to-man, how will it match up with the Zags' big men? Devin Williams would be the logical defender against Dower, but that would leave Kevin Noreen, Nathan Adrian or Remi Dibo on the 7-1 Karnowski. A flip of that would leave that trip at a definite strength and quickness disadvantage against Dower. Keep track of WVU's defenisve assignments on the inside - if Gonzage wins them, it's very likely to win the game.