With the recent release of Gonzaga’s impressive non-conference schedule, there has been plenty of discussion and analysis about the solid slate of opponents that are bound to give the Zags a tough test. Schools like Arizona, UCLA, Memphis, and Southern Methodist seem to be the strongest attention-grabbers when glancing at the schedule.
It’s also important to note, however, that these powerhouse teams are not the only ones who pose a serious threat to the Zags.
On November 26, Gonzaga will go up against the University of Georgia as part of the 2014 NIT Season Tipoff in New York.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time at GU, it’s that overlooking an opponent can prove to be a brutal mistake. And while the Gonzaga Bulldogs have the depth, talent, and athleticism to compete with anyone in the country, the Georgia Bulldogs are a team that the Zags absolutely cannot overlook.
Georgia finished last season with a 20-14 overall record and made it to the 2nd round of the NIT Tournament. In their SEC conference standings, they had a final record of 12-6; this standing may not seem like much, but when you consider their relentless SEC schedule, you start to look at things from a different perspective. That 20-14 finish gave Georgia a tie for 2nd place in the SEC, which happens to be their best league finish in 24 years.
Returning for the Bulldogs are 3 starters from last year’s squad that are bound to turn a few heads.
Working on the perimeter will be the 1-2 punch of guards Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann. Last season, this dynamic duo averaged a combined total of 26 points, seven rebounds, and four assists per game.
Mann, in particular, demonstrated his phenomenal leadership and athletic abilities for Georgia last season as he led the team in points, assists, minutes, and steals per game. He possesses a pure scoring ability and will give Gonzaga’s backcourt all they can handle. Expect Gary Bell Jr., the Zags’ best perimeter defender, to be on Mann like a hawk.
Gaines’ presence on the court is a perfect compliment to Mann’s role on the team. Gaines was the second-leading scorer for the Bulldogs last season and adds another versatile scoring option to the backcourt.
Fortunately, the Zags have an answer for Georgia’s star guards in the form of Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos, both of whom are considered to be two of the top guards in the NCAA. The combined guard play of these two teams is going to make for some fun basketball.
In the front court, Georgia returns 6’8″ big man Nemanja Djurisic. While Djurisic doesn’t always fill up the stat sheets, he adds a powerful, dominant presence to the Bulldogs’ starting rotation.
Oddly enough, Djurisic became Georgia’s top threat from 3-point range last season. In fact, his presence on the perimeter played a crucial role in Georgia’s wins over South Carolina, Davidson, and in the SEC-opener against Missouri. His size in the paint and his impressive shooting ability are likely to give opposing teams a tough time.
Feb 27, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Mississippi State 85-55. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
But once again, Gonzaga has an answer. With the introduction of Kyle Wiltjer, NCAA champion and former 6th Man of the Year at Kentucky, the Zags will present Djurisic with a challenge he’s probably not used to seeing. Wiltjer, a fellow power forward, also has the range to knock down the 3-point shot while being an effective force in the paint. This match up will make for an entertaining battle between two of the premier power forwards in the NCAA.
I would argue that Gonzaga has what it takes to defeat this Georgia team. The weapons the Zags possess can and may prove to be too much for the Georgia Bulldogs.
However, as all Zag fans learned from the University of San Diego and the University of Portland games last year, disregarding a team and considering them as an “easy win” is never a good idea. Georgia is a talented team with veteran leadership and sharp-shooting offensive playmakers.
Though it can be easy to focus all of our efforts on the Arizona-type match ups, it’s essential to not overlook the other teams that compose Gonzaga’s schedule, especially the Georgia Bulldogs. The Zags have the ability to come out victorious in this match up, but expect to see a hard-fought, determined effort from the University of Georgia.