Gonzaga vs. #16 Saint Mary's: Thursday's Preview

    
February 9th, 2012

Could there be a changing of the guard in the West Coast Conference? While that may be a tough question to ask given the sustained run of success that Gonzaga (18-4, 8-2) has enjoyed over the years, winning the last eleven WCC regular season titles, Saint Mary's (22-2, 11-0) would establish a three-game lead with four conference games remaining with a win in Spokane. Led by seniors Matthew Dellavedova (15.5 ppg, 6.4 apg) and Rob Jones (14.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg), the Gaels have already swept BYU and handed Gonzaga an 83-62 loss back on January 12th. While Jones accounted for 11 rebounds and eight assists in that game he only scored two points, and the Gaels benefitted from other players stepping up their play. 

One of those was redshirt freshman Brad Waldow (8.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg), who scored 17 points and grabbed ten rebounds in the first meeting. Waldow's reached double figures in points in each of the last four games, with a 14-point, 16-rebound performance at Santa Clara to begin the streak. Mitchell Young was also instrumental in the win over Gonzaga as he scored 12 points off the bench, and that production proved to be too much for the Bulldogs to overcome due in part to the quiet night that Robert Sacre (1-for-7, four points) had. Both Sacre (11.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Elias Harris (13.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg) need to be productive if Gonzaga is to control the flow of the contest tonight.

Another issue for Gonzaga in the first meeting was the overall play of the backcourt, as Kevin Pangos was their most productive guard with 12 points and four assists. But the other members of the rotation, from David Stockton to Marquise Carter to Gary Bell Jr., were all relatively quiet as Dellavedova took over the game with 26 points and six assists. Stephen Holt was also a factor for the Gaels as he scored 17 points, and while Jorden Page and Clint Steindl were quiet on that night they both have the ability to step up as well. Steindl scored 16 points in 21 minutes off the bench in Saint Mary's win at BYU, knocking down four of six from beyond the arc.

While equal in three-point percentage (36.6%), Saint Mary's has been the better offensive team this season as they boast a higher efficiency (117.4 to 109.4) and a better assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4 to 1.04 for Gonzaga) on the season. Gonzaga is essentially breaking even on assists and turnovers to date, and they can't afford to do so if they're to beat Saint Mary's. If a guard other than Pangos can play well that will be just as much of a boost for the Zags as the raucous crowd. To become the champion sometimes it takes going into the house of the reigning champ and winning to take full possession of the throne, and that's the mission in front of Randy Bennett's team.

Illinois visits Indiana on the heels of a disappointing home loss to Norhtwestern, and it's a key game for both teams with regards to possible NCAA seeding down the line. The Hoosiers are coming off of a much-needed win at Purdue, and with the likes of Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls there isn't much reason to question the effort of Tom Crean's team. But for whatever reason that hasn't always been the case with the Fighting Illini, who really need to figure out their "identity" and how to get the most out of their talent. Meyers Leonard and Brandon Paul lead the way for Bruce Weber, but consistent play from the likes of Joseph Bertrand and D.J. Richardson is a must down the stretch. 

There are a pair of important contests in the Pac-12 as Arizona hosts Colorado and Washington visits Oregon, with the Huskies currently alone in first place. The Wildcats, fresh off of their sweep of the Bay Area road trip, likely have the second-best at-large profile in the conference (Cal having the best) but falling too far out of first place could get them in trouble. Tad Boyle's Buffaloes have been a pleasant surprise within the league, and in Andre Roberson they've got the league's best rebounder. His battle with Solomon Hill will be worth the price of admission by itself, and the young talent on the floor for both teams should be a good sign for the future.

In Eugene Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross lead the way for a Washington team that allowed some important non-conference opportunities to slip away, making it even more important that they find a way to win the regular season crown. Oregon's perimeter trio of Devoe Joseph, Garrett Sim and E.J. Singler are skilled enough to be a handful themselves, and this game is usually one that gets the fans into Matthew Knight Arena.

Ole Miss could really use a win at Mississippi State to help their fleeting at-large hopes and the same goes for Minnesota, who hosts Wisconsin. NC State (at Georgia Tech) and Miami (hosting Virginia Tech) are both playing games they can't afford to lose for the sake of their respective resumes, and undefeated Murray State is also in action. Lastly the Horizon League features an important contest as Valparaiso visits Cleveland State with the Vikings (10-2) up a game in the loss column.    

Top 25 Games
8:00 PM Tennessee State at (7) Murray State (ESPN3)
11:00 PM (13) Saint Mary's at Gonzaga (ESPN2)
7:00 PM Ole Miss at (18) Mississippi State (ESPN2)
7:00 PM (22) Wisconsin at Minnesota (ESPN)
8:00 PM Illinois at (23) Indiana (BTN)

NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Lehigh at American (CBS SN)
7:00 PM NC State at Georgia Tech (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Maine at Boston University
7:00 PM Albany at New Hampshire (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Appalachian State at Furman
7:00 PM Elon at Chattanooga (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Wofford at Georgia Southern
7:00 PM Siena at Niagara
7:00 PM High Point at Coastal Carolina
7:00 PM Valparaiso at Cleveland State
7:00 PM Winthrop at Campbell
7:00 PM Rider at Canisius
7:00 PM Denver at Florida Atlantic
7:00 PM North Texas at Florida International (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Radford at Gardner-Webb
7:00 PM VMI at Presbyterian
7:00 PM UMBC at Stony Brook
7:00 PM Davidson at Citadel
7:00 PM Butler at Youngstown State (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Utah Valley at N.J.I.T.
7:30 PM Liberty at Charleston Southern
7:30 PM Manhattan at Fairfield
8:00 PM Arkansas State at South Alabama
8:00 PM North Dakota State at UMKC
8:00 PM Western Carolina at Charleston (ESPN3)
8:00 PM South Dakota State at South Dakota
8:00 PM Western Kentucky at Middle Tennessee (FCS)
8:00 PM UNC Greensboro at Samford
8:00 PM Tennessee-Martin at Southeast Missouri State
8:00 PM Eastern Illinois at Tennessee Tech
8:05 PM IUPUI at Oral Roberts (FCS)
8:05 PM Arkansas-Little Rock at Louisiana-Lafayette
8:05 PM North Dakota at Chicago State
8:30 PM Utah at Arizona State
8:30 PM Marist at St. Peter's (ESPN3)
8:35 PM Weber State at Northern Arizona (FCS)
9:00 PM Colorado at Arizona (ESPN)
9:00 PM Iowa at Northwestern (ESPNU)
9:00 PM Western Illinois at Southern Utah
9:00 PM Virginia Tech at Miami (FL) (ESPN2)
9:05 PM Louisiana Tech at Utah State (ESPN3)
9:05 PM Montana at Northern Colorado
10:00 PM UC Riverside at Cal Poly
10:00 PM Fresno State at San Jose State (ESPN3)
10:00 PM Washington State at Oregon State
10:00 PM San Diego at Pepperdine
10:05 PM Montana State at Sacramento State
10:05 PM Portland State at Idaho State
10:05 PM UC Irvine at Cal State Fullerton
10:30 PM California at USC
10:30 PM Long Beach State at Pacific
11:00 PM Stanford at UCLA
11:00 PM New Mexico State at Idaho
11:00 PM Cal State Northridge at UC Davis
11:00 PM Washington at Oregon (FSN)
11:00 PM Loyola Marymount at Portland
11:00 PM Santa Clara at San Francisco (ESPNU)
12:00 AM Nevada at Hawaii