Gonzaga National Title Run Hinging on Continued Chemistry and Health

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  • The Bulldogs have a seasoned lineup based on the inside-outside tandem of Drew Timme and Corey Kispert
  • Jalen Suggs is versatile threat
  • Oddsmakers like Gonzaga’s chances if the Bulldogs stay healthy

From the Kennel

One consistent force in the COVID-19 ridden college basketball season has been the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs, who have been almost a unanimous top pick in most preseason polls and college basketball annuals.

With future Hall of Fame Mark Few at the helm, the team has designs on finally winning that elusive national title with a dominant group of upperclassmen and freshman phenom Jalen Suggs, who is the highest-rated recruit in Bulldogs history.

Few picked up his 600th career victory in Gonzaga’s season-opening 102-90 win over then No. 6 Kansas in the Fort Myers Tip-Off in Fort Myers, Fla. He tied North Carolina’s Roy Williams as the fastest to 600 wins in years of coaching (22).

Few and dynamic assistant Tommy Lloyd have done an excellent job of recruiting international players with eclectic and developed fundamentals over their years in Spokane. The Bulldogs’ staff is also one of the best in the game at player development.

They plug them into this Gonzaga offensive system, and they flourish. Currently, players who hail from Lithuania, Russia, France, and Mali dot the roster.

Dynamic Duo

Senior forward Corey Kispert and sophomore center Drew Timme have turned into a scoring dynamo that has pushed Gonzaga to an average of 93 points per game while the team shoots 55.6 percent from the field.

Kispert is the lone player who has shown consistency from the 3-point range in these first there games. He is 9-of-20 as he can score on the pull up in transition or in a natural offensive flow.

Timme has developed his overall game in the off-season, and at 6-10, 235-lbs, he provides a tough matchup for opposing big men. He has a plethora with moves he can complete on the boxes with his athleticism, or he can accept the down screen, pop to the perimeter, and shoot the mid-range jumper.

Both players who around 60 percent from the field in their first three games, and Timme averaged 23.3 points per game while Kispert is at 22.3.

Freshman phenom

Suggs is a picture of athleticism and energy, and at 6-8, he offers more matchup problems for opponents. He’s a solid rebounder with 4.7 from the guard spot, and his length makes him a tough defensive matchup. He joins Ayayi in the backcourt as both have seven steals so far in the first three games.

Suggs went out of Gonzaga’s 87-82 win over West Virginia with what appeared to be a serious ankle injury. He came back in the second half and gave Gonzaga a boost as they adapted to the flow of the game and Suggs’ injury. He went out with the ankle injury with 7:07 remaining in the first half and Gonzaga trailing the Mountaineers, 20-19. He came back in at the 15:53 mark of the second half as West Virginia led 45-42.

Suggs provided a boost as finished with five rebounds, six assists, and three steals in addition to four points. He proved as a tough competitor – he played football in high school in St. Paul, Minn. – and he showed the national TV audience that he doesn’t have to be a scorer like he was in Fort Myers, where he averaged 18 points and seven assists in the Zags’ wins over Kansas and Auburn.

X-Factors

  • Tightening up the defense will be a priority going forward. Gonzaga’s opponents average 79.7 points per game while allowing opponents to shoot at a 35 recent clip. The opposition has gotten to the free-throw line 14 more times. Guarding transition as well as solid focus in help and recovery off the dribble and two main objectives.
  • Joel Ayayi came on the scene much as Suggs did a year ago, and now as a junior, he is proving he can score as well as be a defensive stopper with his length and athleticism. His scoring is at 15 points per game – up to four and a half points from 2019-20 – and his rebounding has increased from 6.3 last season to 9.0 through three games.
  • Andrew Nembhard transferred to Gonzaga from Florida, where he was the staring point guard. He has come off the bench so far to register 11.7 points per game in 30.3 minutes. He had 19 in the win over West Virginia.
  • The rotation yields only two players coming off the bench and averaging double digits in minutes. It feels like the development of 7-footer Oumar Ballo could be a huge key in spelling Timme if the Bulldogs could count on him for 12-15 minutes per game by March. Aaron cook has played solid basketball on both ends of the floor in picking up 12 minutes per game.

Covid implications

The Bulldogs are on pause until Dec. 14 after two players tested positive before Gonzaga before the matchup with No. 2 Baylor at BankersLife Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Tuesday.

This erases three home games that were schedule against Tarleton State (Dec. 8), Southern University (Dec. 10), and Idaho (Dec. 14). The team can potentially pick back up and move forward on Dec. 15 with a date with Iowa on the horizon on Dec. 19.

In Fort Myers, the Zags had a player and a staff member test positive as they were isolated in their hotel rooms in quarantine.

They were supposed to play Tennessee on Dec. 2 in Indianapolis, but the game was cancelled due to a pause in the Volunteers’ operations regarding positive tests.

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