Shortly after the first weekend of college basketball, the Zags face their toughest non-conference home game of the season, in No. 22 SMU. Earning its first ever preseason top-25 ranking in Larry Brown’s 30-year tenure, SMU is a tournament-caliber team and this matchup is one of the marquee non-conference square-offs.
Gonzaga looks to continue its pre-conference tirade three days after annihilating Sacramento State 104-58, but faces stiffer competition as a member of the college basketball coaching pantheon in Brown brings his loaded Mustangs to the Kennel.
SMU had quite the tumultuous offseason, which begun by corralling (so they thought..) the most coveted 2014 point-guard recruit in the country, Emmanuel Mudiay. The six-foot-five-inch point guard possesses diamond-in-the-rough athleticism with the size to be a stopper at multiple positions and currently tops Chad Ford’s guard prospects for the 2015 NBA draft. Despite landing the transcendent prospect, to the program’s dismay he opted to sign with China Basketball Association’s Guangdong Southern Tigers to avoid potential NCAA eligibility issues and make a million dollars along the way.
Nevertheless, SMU without Mudiay boasts six-foot-11, 220 pound center Yanick Moreira who starred for Angola’s FIBA team this summer and Xavier senior wing transfer Justin Martin who is eligible immediately. Moreira had 19 points and four rebounds and Martin totaled eight points and four assists in 10 minutes in the Mustangs’ 93-54 season-opening win over Lamar.
Arguably the biggest tournament snub of last year, Larry Brown’s squad enters the season hungry for a bid to the Big Dance, but must face an early road challenge playing the Zags shorthanded.
What to watch for…
More roster trouble:
As the team recovers from Mudiay heartbreak, they were welcomed with the news that team-leading power forward Markus Kennedy was suspended for the first semester of the school year due to academic reasons. That being said, they still have plenty of weapons, including forward Ben Moore who lit up Lamar for 22 points, nine rebounds and five dimes and Nic Moore who can fill it up at a high volume. With Moore, sophomore guard Keith Frazier, Moreira and Martin coming off the bench, this is a potentially very dangerous SMU team.
The athletic starting unit and eight-man depth poses a stingy defense, something the Zags did not see in Sacramento State.
Gary Bell Jr. vs. Keith Frazier:
If Few puts Bell on Nic Moore, that matchup will be one to key in on. Since SMU is probably too deep to do that , Pangos will likely allow Moore to score at will.
Bell’s first true defensive test of the year comes on the six-foot-five-inch sophomore Keith Frazier. The five-star prospect out of high school, Frazier wildly underperformed during his freshman season last year averaging just over 5 points per game in an average of 14.8 minutes. Frazier could potentially have a big year and has a three-inch size advantage over Bell, so look for this matchup to potentially be key to each team’s success.
Przemek Karnowski vs. Yanick Moreira
Two words: foul trouble. Karnowski is faced with the task of guarding an extremely athletic big in Moreira who has thus far lived up to his predicted break-out year. Like last game, do not be surprised if Few goes with Sabonis at center early and often.
ESPN has the line in favor of GU by 7.5 points. I expect a closer game than that. SMU is too good of a team defensively for the Zags to shoot the lights out on like they did Sac. State, but there are so many scoring weapons on the roster that I don’t see Gonzaga having any particular trouble filling it up.
Watch out for a barrage of offense from Kevin Pangos. Bell will have his hands full defensively and the Mustangs have the length and wing athleticism to account for Wesley, but I’m not convinced they will be able to contain Pangos.
Domantas Sabonis is going to go OFF. One thing apparent to me through an inner-squad scrimmage, an exhibition game and the opener is that young Sabas plays with tons of emotion and he will be backed up by a student section ready to explode. Students have not fallen in love with him quite yet, not enough season has occurred, but this could be his official coming out party.
The two teams have never played, expect a barn-burner.