Gonzaga vs Texas match preview

Just days away from a very narrow win on a very big ship, the Gonzaga Bulldogs embark on the toughest stretch of the non-conference schedule, beginning with an actual road game against the No. 11 Texas Longhorns Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m.

Texas, like pretty much the rest of all good teams in college basketball, hasn’t seen their toughest competition to start the year so far this season. The Longhorns easily handled UTEP and Houston Christian at home to start 2-0.

Texas Longhorns, 2-0, KenPom #2

The Longhorns offer an interesting mix of upper class experience and some hyper talented youngsters. The Longhorns brought forth a talented Class of 2022 led by five-star recruits Dillon Mitchell and Arterio Morris. As expected, these two players have played decent minutes and made some good contributions so early in the season, but it’s the rest of the squad that’s carrying the offense at the moment.

This offense focuses primarily on three players: Iowa State transfer Tyrese Hunter and seniors Marcus Carr and Timmy Allen. Hunter leads the roster with 14 points per game and is quite effective at attacking the rim. He’s not a huge outside threat, pretty much like the rest of his teammates this season. In two games, Texas has hit just seven threes and shoots just 19.4 percent from long range, good for No. 353 in the nation.

This team’s identity is largely its defense, and that’s the main reason why the KenPom ranking is so much higher than the AP ranking. KenPom ranked Texas as their best defensive squad – a full point better than the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats. They’re not a big team, but they’re an incredibly athletic team. After a tough and tough effort against Michigan State, Gonzaga will have to roll his offense to get past the Texas defense.

Can the Zags walk?

One of the ways Michigan State built such a lead and lasted much of the game on Friday was that they limited Gonzaga’s transition opportunities at almost all times. The Zags finished the game with just 14 transition plays (for comparison, they had 28 against North Florida) and a meager 0.214 points per possession.

Gonzaga probably won’t miss as many buckets in rotation, but they need to find a way to run the ball against the Longhorns. In their two games this season, the Texas defense has only allowed nine rallies, albeit against overwhelmed competition.

How Does Texas Drew Timme Defend?

Dylan Disu is the tallest member of the Longhorns at 6’9. After that, it’s freshman Mitchell at 6’8. It gets shorter and shorter from down there. Against Michigan State, Drew Timme did Drew Timme things, taking over the game in the second half, blinding with his footwork, causing fouls and making it an overall nightmare for the Spartan frontcourt (until they all fouled).

With just two games into his collegiate career, Mitchell is exactly the type of player who would most likely be devoured by Timme’s post-post skills. Timme is at the center of this Gonzaga offense and it’s up to Texas to figure out how to limit his touches in the paint. As we saw against Michigan State, there’s a better than 50 percent chance he’ll score if he has the ball in his hands. For Texas to win, Timme must work as hard as possible for his points and not have a second half like he did against the Spartans.

What do we get from Nolan Hickman?

Hickman was steady and steady against North Florida. This was followed by a game on a big boat that he would probably like to forget. MSU pushed Hickman into some unusual turnovers, and his three-point attempt with seven seconds left in the first half, which then led to a last-second fast break and two points from MSU at close, left me head against the hit wall.

Thing is, Hickman is a sophomore, but he’s been playing ball for the most part this past season, especially as the year came to a close. Last year, Andrew Nembhard was the primary, and sometimes sole, ball handler. Hickman gets a trial by fire and Texas will hardly be an easy out. Expect Texas to throw everything they can at him to chew the offense up in the shot clock as early as possible.

Get ready for another grinder.

We have a two-tempo story, with Texas doing their best to slow the pace and Gonzaga doing whatever it takes to keep up the pace. The theoretical MO against Gonzaga in recent years has been to play over-physical because they can’t recover from it. However, we saw against Michigan State that when the going gets tough, the Zags can dive into the action with the best of them. It was an ugly win and quite frustrating at times, but Gonzaga’s win over Michigan State was dismal when everyone came out.

For both teams this is a real litmus test for the start of the season. Texas gets an excellent opponent in Gonzaga and Gonzaga gets a rabid away environment in return. This game is likely to be a close competition. It should also be quite entertaining.