Preview & Prediction: By Raphielle Johnson
Two programs in the western portion of the United State meet in Phoenix no Sunday evening, and expect there to be a storyline other than the game itself in regards to #4 Gonzaga (7-0) playing Arizona (6-2). Turns out there’s a job opening at Arizona for a head basketball coach, and some have suggested that they should go after current Gonzaga head coach Mark Few to fill the opening. Some will talk about that, pushing to the backburner the fact that Coach Few’s got a serious Final Four contender at his fingertips. Five (Stephen Gray averages 9.9 ppg) Bulldogs are averaging double figures this season, led by senior forward Josh Heytvelt at 16.3. After being dogged the last two seasons by a suspension and rust, Heytvelt has been a key contributor for this team.
From him to guys like Austin Daye, Jeremy Pargo (seventh in the nation in assists per game with 7.2) and Matt Bouldin you could spend all day talking about Gonzaga’s offensive weapons. But there’s a big difference in this team from seasons past that has them on short list of teams capable of playing in Detroit come April. That would be defense, the area in which their improved toughness has been the most apparent. Gonzaga is currently fifth in the nation in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 34.4% shooting from the field. Add to this a plus-6 in turnover margin and just less than seven blocks per game and it’s no mystery why the Bulldogs have been so dominant in the early going.
As for the Wildcats, led by interim head coach Russ Pennell, they’ve survived on the strength of three veterans (Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise) who have to shoulder the bulk of the scoring load while bringing along their less experienced teammates. And despite their depth, the Wildcats may pose a challenge for Gonzaga on the defensive end. Arizona is ranked second nationally in both field goal (53.7%) and three-point (45.8%) percentage, with both Budinger and Hill shooting a scalding 61.0% from the field. Budinger, a junior swingman from San Diego, is one of the country’s best from behind the arc this season with a percentage of 62.5%.
The issues for the Wildcats this season have been turnovers (-1.3 turnover margin) and mental lapses that have cost them dearly in losses to UAB and Texas A&M. Players who are either new to the program or didn’t play much in recent years should have enough playing time under their belts to be comfortable on the floor, but the thing about inexperience is that you never know when it’ll show up. Arizona can hang around in this one if their three stars hold their own against the deeper Bulldogs. But it’s that depth that’ll get the Bulldogs a win heading into their showdown on Saturday against Connecticut.
Winner: Gonzaga Margin: 10-14 pts
- Bracketology: Selection Sunday Projection
- Bracketology: Saturday Night NCAA Tournament Projection
- Non-BCS Top 25: Creighton, Colorado St Rise
- College Basketball Top 50: Indiana Ends Regular Season #1
- Non-BCS Top 25: Valpo Replaces BYU
- College Basketball Top 50: Maryland and Iowa St Drop Out
- Non-BCS Top 25: Davidson In, Wyoming Out
- College Basketball Top 50: #2 Gonzaga Hits All-Time High
- Non-BCS Top 25: Air Force, Davidson Making Moves
- College Basketball Top 50: Another Week, Another #1
About Raphielle Johnson
College sports has always been a source of excitement for Raphielle Johnson, be it through watching, writing, or taking a shot in the dark and walking onto a college football team just to live the life (Arizona Football, 2001). Raphielle is the assistant editor, providing his own work in addition to helping out with the site operations. When not writing for CHN, you can usually find him in front of a television set watching one of many pay-per-view sports packages that he owns. He can be followed at twitter.com/raphiellej.
In a gym near you