As a devoted Gonzaga fan, I’m not so fond of saying so, but BYU is a good team. BYU (9-2) has losses against just 2 teams this season—one narrow loss (74-70) came at the hands of what appears to be a very good Boise State team, and another more substantial loss (79-53) to USC. They have quality wins against San Diego State, Utah, Utah State and St. Johns. BYU is led by a pair of very experienced seniors—one in the backcourt and one in the frontcourt: 6’2”guard, Alex Barcello, and the very tall 7’3” senior forward transfer from Purdue, Matt Haarms. Barcello’s getting just a hair shy of 17 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists a game while shooing a crazy 63% from beyond the arc. Haarms gets 22 minutes a game down low and averages 11 points and 2 blocks per contest. The Cougars have a whole bunch of support off the bench as well, with 11 players averaging over 10 minutes a game.
Of course, Gonzaga hasn’t maintained a #1 ranking since the beginning of the season for eating crackers. Kispert, Timme, Ayayi, Suggs and Nembhard can all drop 20 on you in a flash. They score in a lightning-quick blur and can burn the nets up from deep. All are great on the defensive end as well, along with defensive specialists Anton Watson and Aaron Cook. And if they need someone really big and pretty mean down low, they’ve got 7’0” Oumar Ballo to protect the paint. The Zags are, in particular, going to look to tighten up their defense against another worthy opponent like BYU. They’ve allowed their last three opponents less than 70 points per game while scoring at least 85+ themselves.
This will be a good game as the intensity is going to be high on both ends and it might even be close for a while. The Zags will have a little extra in the tank though at home and they’ll want to showcase everything they can do against a rival to whom they owe more than just a little payback. In their last meeting down in Provo, the Bulldogs fell for only the 2nd time in the 2019-2020 season to the Yoeli Childs led Cougars, 91-78. I think the Gonzaga defense will be relentless and the fast pace the Zags seem to be able to impose at will is going to be too much for the Cougars. If the Bulldogs don’t pull away from BYU right off the bat then I suspect they will later in the 2nd half—similar to the way the game against San Francisco went. I predict Gonzaga wins big, 102-77.
One interesting possibility in the near future: if Gonzaga has another hole in their schedule after another California-based opponent (a majority of WCC teams come from California) or some WCC tream elsewhere has a Covid health hang-up—could they re-schedule that Baylor game everybody and their dog wants to see? Officially, this game on Thursday is a rescheduling of the February 6th matchup between Gonzaga and BYU, so perhaps that slot opens up if Santa Clara can’t fill in there. If not Baylor then maybe Texas or Villanova will find themselves free at some point? This season it seems like those kinds of possibilities might just present themselves. One can only hope. It would be good for Gonzaga to face another Top-10/ Top-25 opponent before the tournament rolls around—and I have no doubt that Mark Few will seek out a challenge as he always wants his players to be on the court with the best of the best, even if it puts his perfect record at risk. Have a great week and get to that TV on Thursday night at 5:30 pacific time! GO ZAGS!!!
~ Clark Karoses