BYU will end a two-week hiatus when they travel to Spokane Thursday to play #1 Gonzaga. BYU’s last game was a 87-79 win 12/23 versus Weber State, and BYU’s first three WCC games were postponed due to COVID-19 cases in other programs. Gonzaga was moved to Thursday to replace BYU’s previously scheduled game versus Pacific and the Zags will provide a monumental challenge, opening as a 19-point Vegas favorite.
In short, the Zags do just about everything well. They have always had elite bigs, now they have elite guard play to go along with it. Freshman point guard Jalen Suggs is a potential #1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and has been even better than advertised. Suggs is averaging 13.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.4 apg, and shooting a blistering 54% from the field and 44% from three.
Versatile senior forward Corey Kispert has gone from a projected second round draft pick and looks like a first round draft pick with how he is playing. He leads the Zags in scoring at 21.6 ppg and is shooting 51% from three.
Sophomore forward Drew Timme looks better than last year’s WCC player of the year Filip Petrusev and is averaging 18.4 ppg and 7.3 rpg.
To make things even more ridiculous, the Zags bring Florida Transfer Andrew Nembhard off the bench, who started at guard for Florida last year and averaged over 11 ppg. Gonzaga’s most lethal lineup is when they put Nembhard in the lineup and go small. They put Timme at the 5, Kispert at the 4, Joe Ayayi at the 3, and Suggs and Nembhard in the backcourt. Gonzaga has plowed over opponents with this lineup and met little resistance.
How BYU Can Pull the Upset
So, how the heck does BYU keep this game close, let alone win?
1) Win the Front Court Battle. I think one of the first keys is to get Timme in foul trouble. Gonzaga has frountcourt depth, but they run a lot of the offense through Timme and the other frontcourt players don’t have the same offensive skill set. Harward has bruised opposing post players and Haarms is proving to be an elite rim-runner, so controlling the paint will be huge for BYU.
Gonzaga has elite shooters, but they play inside out. 61% of Gonzaga’s points come from two-pointers, which is 15th in the nation. Only 22.4% of their points come from three, which is 316th in the nation. BYU can’t neglect their outside shooters, but establishing a strong presence down low will affect the way Gonzaga runs its offense.
2) Limit Gonzaga’s Transition Offense. Gonzaga has the best offense in the nation. They are top 10 in tempo and run their offense at a blistering pace. BYU coaches will have a decision to make — do they crash the offensive glass to try to manufacture additional possessions, or do they just have one guy crash the glass and send everyone else back on defense to limit Gonzaga’s transition? Caleb Lohner and Richard Harward have both been great offensive rebounders so far, but BYU may not want any other guys outside of them going for offensive boards.
3) Get Multiple Guys Hitting Threes. BYU needs to win the battle in the paint, and on of the easiest ways to do that is to have multiple threats from outside. If Barcello, Averette, Harding, Knell, Lohner and Spencer Johnson are hitting shots then the whole offense will open up. Teams have been honing in on Barcello and letting Averette shoot, so if he can hit a couple shots early then Gonzaga will be forced to change how hard they hedge on Barcello.
Gonzaga By the Numbers:
AP/KenPom/Net Ranking: 1
Wins: Kansas, Iowa, Auburn, West Virginia, Virginia, Northwestern State, Northern Arizona, Dixie State, San Francisco
Effective FG%: 60.9% (#2 Nationally)
2-Point FG%: 65.2% (#3 Nationally)
3-Point FG%: 34.5% (#132 Nationally)
KenPom Odds/Prediction: Gonzaga 94% chance to win, 90-73 score prediction