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Game Preview: San Diego State at Gonzaga

Three things to know about Monday night’s clash between two of the very best mid-major programs in the nation.

NCAA Basketball: Utah Valley at Gonzaga
Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss drives at Utah Valley’s Isaac Neilson.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego State Aztecs (1-0) at No. 14 Gonzaga Bulldogs (1-0)

When: Monday, November 14 at 9 p.m. Pacific
Where: McCarthey Athletic Center, Spokane, Wash.
Watch: ESPN2

Pairing premier west coast programs has become an annual staple for the midnight Eastern time slot of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon, and with the Zags and Aztecs this year is no different.

Steve Fischer’s Aztecs entered this season heavily favored in the Mountain West Conference, while Mark Few’s Bulldogs landed in the top-15 in both preseason polls and were picked once again to win the West Coast Conference. Both teams won their season openers against inferior competition, so this will be the first real test for both squads.

Clash of Styles

The recent run of success for San Diego State under Steve Fischer has been marked by elite, suffocating defense and, frankly, boring and borderline bad offense. Under Mark Few the Zags have been an elite offensive team with a history — though that has changed dramatically over recent seasons — of less than impressive defense.

So, it would be easy to say this is a match up of one great offense against one great defense. And that’s pretty accurate.

San Diego State comes in a respectable 22nd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, but the Aztecs are way down at 73rd on the offensive end. Gonzaga is 18th in the offensive efficiency rankings and 42nd defensively.

Star Guards

Expectations for former Nigel Williams-Goss, who played his first two seasons at Washington, were high from the moment he announced he was transferring to Gonzaga. Now that he’s eligible to play for the Zags, he’s been raking in preseason accolades. Back in October he was named to the preseason Bob Cousy Award watch list, given to the nation’s best point guard. Last week he was put in the running for the nation’s best player, period, when he was named to the Naismith Trophy Men’s College Player of the Year Preseason watch list.

Fortunately for the Aztecs, they’ve someone who could shut down a star point guard in 6-foot-5 senior Dakarai Allen. An elite defender, Allen ranked first in the nation last season in points per possession allowed (0.591). He recorded three steals in the opener against San Diego.

Gonzaga’s Giants

In Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer the Zags lost two forwards from last season to the NBA. Yet, they still boast an enormous, and enormously talented, front line.

On Friday night fifth year senior Przemek Karnowski (7-foot-1, 300 pounds) played nothing like a guy who missed nearly all of last season due to a back injury. Freshman Zach Collins (7-foot, 230 pounds) is Gonzaga’s first McDonald’s All-American. Those two were known commodities coming into this season. But in the season opener it was a freshman from France who broke and showed that the Zags frontcourt talent extends well down the bench. Killian Tillie (6-foot-10, 200 pounds) scored 9 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in just 20 minutes played.