Game Info: Sat, Mar. 23rd, 840 P.M. ET, Salt Lake City, UT.
The Gonzaga faithful were able to take a deep breath after the Bulldogs survived a scare from No. 16 seed Southern in their second round game on Thursday. At least they can for the time being, because the Zags are back in action against the Wichita State Shockers on Saturday. Many think the No. 1 team in the nation is on upset alert after the Zags lackluster performance against a weaker opponent in Southern. However, if Gonzaga plays to their full potential, chances are they will leave Energy Solutions Arena with another victory.
What to Expect From Wichita State
After losing 4 starters from a 25 win team in the previous year, it was uncertain if Wichita State would even be in the big dance this season. Well, it turns out there back, go figure.
In their second round matchup, the Shockers simply just out toughed Pitt, who were considered one of the more physical teams in the field. This effort was led by Teleke Cotton, who held Pitt’s Tray Woodall to just two points and also had five steals. His stellar defense was an integral part of the winning recipe for the Shockers against the Panthers.
Statistically, Wichita State matches up with Gonzaga fairly well. The Shockers are 28th in nation in rebounding with 38.4 per game. They are also ranked 7th in the country in average rebounding margin with 7.7. Their rebounding campaign is led by big men Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, who average 5.2 and 7.1 rebounds per game respectively. Early is also the Shockers leading scorer, as well as being their second leading rebounder. Gonzaga has shown this season that they teams that hit the glass hard can give them fits. Look for this to be a main emphasis for Wichita State on Saturday.
In terms of guard play, the Shockers are led by senior point guard Malcolm Armstead. The Oregon transfer is averaging 10.7 points per game and 4.0 assists per game. Armstead was on fire on Thursday against Pitt with 22 points and 5 assists. He is lightning quick and an explosive scorer. the type of player that could give the Zags fits. As alluded to before, Teleke Cotton is a fabulous defender, and will likely be given the task of guarding either Kevin Pangos or Gary Bell Jr.
Keys for the Zags
Give it to Kelly Olynyk early and often
Kelly Olynyk is potentially a massive matchup problem against Wichita State. The Shockers center Ehimen Orukpe, who will likely be battling with Olynyk come saturday, is a quality low-post player. However, he is not good enough to matchup effectively with Olynyk, who is one of the best offensive big men in the game, if not the best. Gonzaga’s pick and roll, with Olynyk doing the “rolling”, worked very effectively against Southern. The Zags should use this frequently against Wichita State to score at an effective rate and open up shots for their outside shooters.
Do work on the glass
Gonzaga arguably has the best front court in all of college basketball. However, they are not especially dangerous on the glass, if they lose sight of it. The Zags are 11th in the country in average rebounding margin (7.5) and Elias Harris is one of the best pure rebounders in the country. The Zags will need to compete on the glass with Wichita State, who are one of better rebounding teams in the country as well, in order to come out with a victory.
Prove they are mentally and physically tough
Major analysts across the country have questioned and scrutinized the Zags toughness all season long. In order to shut up the critics, the Bulldogs need to win a game against a team that is regarded as a physical ballclub. It is almost certain that the Shockers will come out swinging from the get go, so the Zags absolutely need to show no weakness and swing back. This will be the toughest game for the Zags all season long, no doubt about it.