Getting to know: Gonzaga basketball
The long-awaited return of college basketball has finally arrived. Best of all, college basketball fans are getting what could very well have been the national title game before last year’s NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the threat of COVID-19.
While the rosters won’t be exactly the same, this season-opening matchup between Kansas and Gonzaga figures to still be a treat. Both squads enter the season with lofty expectations once again, as the Bulldogs are the top-ranked team in the country and the Jayhawks are ranked No. 6 in the preseason AP poll.
This heavyweight battle is a part of the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off in Fort Myers, Florida. The game is slated to begin at 12:30 p.m. from inside Suncoast Credit Union Arena on FOX.
It is a matchup that features two programs that have had a lot of success as of late. Gonzaga has the most wins in the nation over the last 10 seasons with 308, while Kansas ranks second on that list with 299.
But Thursday’s game will actually be just the second in the series history between the Jayhawks and the Bulldogs. KU earned a 80-66 win over Gonzaga in Lawrence on November 13, 1998.
I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate the best holiday of the year.
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BREAKING DOWN GONZAGA
No. 24 — F Corey Kispert | 6-7, 220, sr.
Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert was named Preseason All-American by the Associated Press. Kispert was joined on the team by Iowa senior Luka Garza, Baylor senior Jared Butler, Oklahoma State freshman Cade Cunningham, Illinois junior Ayo Dosunmu and Arizona State senior Remy Martin.
As a junior, Kispert started in all 33 games and led Gonzaga in three-point field goals made with 78 while shooting 43.8% from long range. He scored in double figures in 26 games, netting a 26-point outburst against No. 23 North Carolina. Kispert averaged 13.9 points per game last year.
The Athletic ranked Kispert as the second-best wing in all of college basketball entering the season, behind only Virginia’s Sam Hauser. He doesn’t demand a high usage, but Kispert has a knack for delivering for the Bulldogs.
No. 2 — F Drew Timme | 6-10, 235, so.
It wouldn’t be Gonzaga if the team didn’t have a strong post presence.
Timme, a 6-foot-10, sophomore, figures to be that guy this year after averaging 9.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game during his first collegiate season. He also shot 61.8% from the floor while playing 20.5 minutes per contest.
After only making four starts a year ago, Timme will have a much bigger role on this year’s squad. And it is easy to see it working out for him, given his efficiency last year to go along with his skill set as a big man.
Timme was named to the WCC All-Freshman Team a season ago.
No. 1 — G Jalen Suggs | 6-4, 205, fr.
Since we are projecting, most of the excitement around Suggs should come with the disclaimer that Thursday will be his collegiate debut.
That said, Suggs should deliver as he was the highest-ranked recruit to ever sign with the Zags. Suggs, who is from West St. Paul, Minn., was ranked fifth in ESPN's Top-100 list in the Class of 2020. He averaged 23.5 points per game during his senior season at Minnehaha Academy.
Suggs has good size to be the lead guard and has solid athleticism. Per ESPN’s scouting report, Suggs is a threat with his jumper off the catch and while trying to make something happen off the bounce. He does a good job of using the screen on and off the ball as well.
No. 21 — G Joel Ayayi | 6-5, 180, r-jr.
It shows how loaded Gonzaga is that Ayayi is fourth on this list.
As a redshirt sophomore, Ayayi started in 23 of his 33 games and averaged 29.4 minutes per contest. Ayayi produced 10.6 points per game to go along with 6.33 rebounds and 3.21 assists per outing.
Kispert is the only Gonzaga player with more game experience than Ayayi, who supposedly spent the offseason working on his body and perimeter shot.
ONE THING GONZAGA DOES WELL
We will have to use last year’s numbers with this being the first game, but it is worth noting that Gonzaga has the highest offensive efficiency (114.8) based on KenPom’s preseason numbers. The Bulldogs were the best in that category with a mark of 121.3 last year.
ONE AREA GONZAGA STRUGGLES
The Bulldogs didn’t have much of a bench last year, with 23.6% of their minutes coming from their bench. That mark ranked 313th in the nation, as the average D1 team has 30.3% of its minutes coming from reserves. That is something to monitor, especially given KU’s perceived depth this year.
MEET THE COACH
Gonzaga is coached by Mark Few, who is 599-214 entering his 22nd season at GU and his 22nd season overall. Gonzaga returns two starters and four letterwinners from last year’s team that won the West Coast Conference with a 15-1 league record.
According to FanDuel’s Sportsbook, Gonzaga is a 3.5-point favorite over Kansas after opening as a 1.5-point favorite. The over/under is set at 149.5 points as of Wednesday night. KenPom gives the Bulldogs a 60% chance of victory, with a projected score of 75-72 in the opener. That sounds about right. I’m just excited that college basketball is back.
Prediction: Gonzaga 79, Kansas 76