Gonzaga vs. Sacramento State preview


The Gonzaga Bulldogs will play host to Sacramento State tonight at six for its season opener.

Just a day after garnering Final Four forecasts from six of the 22 ESPN college basketball writers during ESPN’s annual season predictions, the Zags will provide a first look against a Division I opponent.

Jeff Borzello, C.L. Brown, Jeff Goodman, John Gasaway, Joe Lunardi and Seth Greenberg all pencilled in the Zags in their Final Four predictions and Greenberg continued his fanboy pro-Zag manifesto by etching in Mark Few as preseason coach of the year.  The hype is certainly there, now it is time for the goods.

The opponent…

Sacramento State went 14-16, 10-10 last season finishing seventh in the Big Sky Conference and most importantly return all five starters.

Success for the Hornets is fully dependent upon guard play, as the top three scorers from last season are all guards and all returning.  Mikh McKinney (16.6 ppg), Dylan Garrity (13.2 ppg) and Cody Demps (8.0 ppg) fill one through three in the Hornets’ lineup.  Demps, at six-foot-four-inches, leads the team in rebounds with 4.2 per game.

What to watch for…

Backup minutes: Where to?

The magic word this team’s roster screams is “depth,” so although tomorrow’s game will provide a first look at how the starters look in a real game scenario be paying close attention to the bench rotation.  Aside from a few defensive kinks, what the starters will provide is not much of a secret.

According to Jim Meeham (@SRJimm) of the Spokesman-Review, Silas Melson and Ryan Edwards will utilize their redshirt year and Bryan Alberts will most likely be doing the same.  This provides question to who will receive the brute of the backup minutes.

Behind guards Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Byron Wesley, and now with both Melson and Alberts redshirting along with Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan not being eligible until late December, the backcourt depth changes.  Senior guard Kyle Dranginis and freshman point guard Josh Perkins will indubitably see the minutes first and foremost, but behind them things really start to open up.  Sophomore wing Connor Griffin is a dark horse for some time at the three and due to his tough face-up defense can guard pretty much one through four and be a scary difference-maker in transition. At third string point guard behind Pangos and Perkins, redshirt Freshman point guard Dustin Triano may even find himself in the lineup.

In the frontcourt, Kyle Wiltjer and Przemek Karnowski will start and eat up the majority of the minutes but so will freshman Domantas Sabonis.  I firmly believe if an underperforming Wiltjer proves to be a similar piece for this team as he was at Kentucky, Sabonis will make a case to start.  Since Wiltjer will most likely be a key multi-faceted contributor in the lineup, the six-foot-ten-inch Sabonis will still get a good amount of backup minutes at both power forward and center.  Next to Sabonis sits Angel Nunez, who must have gained enough trust from the coaches to allow the seven-footer Ryan Edwards to take his much needed redshirt year.

Frontcourt domination: 

Cody Demps led the Hornets in rebounds last season at just 4.2 per game.  The catch?  Demps is a 6-foot-4-inch guard, which shows the lack of size and rebounding ability from Sacramento State.  Gonzaga’s frontcourt, particularly Przemek Karnowski, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, should make a killing inside.  Expect GU to double up the Hornets in rebounds, excel on the offensive glass and earn solid second-chance opportunities.

The outcome?

This game should easily sway the way of the Zags.  Few teams in the country would fare well playing in the season opener in the Kennel, especially the likes of Sacramento State.  Expect big first half numbers from Pangos and Wesley and lots of bench production by the end of the night.