First off, want to give a shout out to Charlotte for waiting until they left the conference to do some damage. Well played, Alan Major.
Dayton enters tonight’s game with Gonzaga with absolutely nothing to lose, everything to gain. UD gets a shot at a formidable opponent on a neutral court, can’t ask for more than that. A win over Gonzaga would be a major boon for Dayton. Not only would it be a victory over a team almost guaranteed, for a variety of reasons, to finish the season in the Top 20 with an NCAA Tournament appearance, it would give UD an opportunity to play against two other name-brand BCS opponents. A loss to the Zags likely means a matchup with Chaminade to be followed with a game against another decent program hoping to leave the island with two wins.
The third game is pivotal for every team in the field not playing in the championship game, as no one wants to come back home with just one victory — but that will be the unfortunate reality for two of the teams leaving Hawaii (of course one team will end the tournament with no wins). Five programs will come back home with at least two wins, let’s hope one of them is returning to Dayton INTERNATIONAL Airport.
The field itself has a nice mix. Syracuse, Gonzaga and Baylor are seen as the favorites, with Dayton and Minnesota playing the sleeper roles. Arkansas and California are the also-rans, while Chaminade is just hoping for a chance to sneak up on someone and claim at least one victory. In other words, this isn’t 2003 (the last time UD went to Maui, and coincidentally won the title), Dayton won’t have Central Michigan, San Diego State and Hawaii to kick around.
The Zags come into the Maui Invitational with an identical resume as the Flyers, a fairly pedestrian 4-0 record over teams that are not likely to make much noise the rest of the season. However, unlike Dayton, Gonzaga has shown no mercy to their undermanned foes, winning by an average margin of twenty-two points — scoring 91 points per game in the process. Gonzaga is currently the second most offensively efficient team in America, scoring a preposterous 1.299 points per possession (and 1.333 points per weighted shot, but only the weirdos like me have any idea what the fuck that means). The Bulldogs also sport the nation’s best effective field goal percentage in the land (65%). If the Germans created a team of basketball playing cyborgs, this would be the team they’d emulate offensively. This is assuming, of course, that they’ve already created fully functional sex-robots. That should definitely be the priority.
This is one of Mark Few’s shallowest benches since he arrived in Spokane, the Zags will go no deeper than eight players against the Flyers. Their formula for success is the same as it has been for the past decade or so, rebound, protect the basketball and shoot the three. Outside of their two main bigs, this is a more undersized Gonzaga team than we are used to — there are no nightmare matchups like Micah Downs, Elias Harris or Austin Daye. As far as I can tell, this is one of Few’s least versatile rosters.
I have followed this Gonzaga program closely since their rise to relevance in the 1999 NCAA Tournament. I still remember watching the end of the Zags/Florida game that year in the concourse of Tennessee’s Thompson–Boling Arena (I think we were waiting for Ohio State/Auburn to begin). A Casey Calvary tip-in with a few seconds left lifted the Bulldogs over the Gators, and an unprecedented run of success began for Gonzaga. Since then, the Zags have been a regular on late-night ESPN games over the years. You know that idiot that was all but eliminated from his tournament pool before it started because he had Gonzaga in the Elite 8 or Final 4? This guy.
With that being said, I feel like I’m a very informed Gonzaga devotee. Here are my top five Zag players (since ’99), in a very particular order:
Meet and Greet
The main pieces to the Bulldogs’ puzzle are junior guards Kevin Pangos (18.8 ppg/3.8 apg/44% 3fg) and Gary Bell, Jr. (16.0 ppg/2.8 apg/60% 3fg). Pangos is a combo-guard who is a deadly catch-and-shoot scorer. Bell is the team’s best defender and arguably their best perimeter shooter. UD will have to slow down one of the nation’s best backcourts to have a chance in this game.
Bigman Sam Dower (12.3 ppg/8.8 rpg) is finally a featured played and is rewarding Few with solid performances. With Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris gone, Dower becomes the man in the middle. He’s a lefty with some range and creative moves around the basket. 7’1″/305 lb. Przemek Karnowski (10.5 ppg/5.8 rpg) is a monster, like there’s a really good chance he will be chased out of the gym with pitchforks. His issue since arriving in Spokane has been conditioning, something all Polish people struggle with.
When he first came to Gonzaga, David Stockton (7.5 ppg/5.5 apg) seemed like the kid who was on the roster simply because his Dad was the greatest player to play at the school. Which he was. However, John Stockton’s seed has blossomed into a serviceable college point-guard. Stockton plays within his limitations, rarely makes a bad pass and can knock down shots if given room.
6’7″ guard Drew Barham (9.3 ppg/53% 3fg) is a deadly perimeter shooter. A graduate transfer from Memphis, Barham’s size and shooting ability allows him to stretch the floor. Gerard Coleman (8.8 ppg/14 mpg) and Kyle Dranginis (6.5 ppg/3 rpg) round out the Gonzaga lineup. Coleman is a transfer from Providence, an offensive threat going to the basket. Coleman is instant offense, a term I don’t throw around loosely so you know I’m not fucking around. Dranginis is a solid backup guard with size.
They will be no pseudo-home court advantage for the Flyers, as the Zags have sold the most tickets and will be the most visible fan base in Maui. UD will hope the Zags’ bigs get in foul trouble and Bell and Pangos struggle from the perimeter. If their SB Nation blog indicates anything, it’s that they might be overlooking the Fliers:
I actually prefer “Fliers,” for what it’s worth.
Vegas has the Zags favored by around seven points, Kenny Pom has the Bulldogs winning by the same margin. My gut instinct tells me Gonzaga is the more skilled team, Zags 82, Fliers 76.