Gonzaga is off to a 7-0 start for just the fifth time since 1958. Amazingly, two of those five seasons have seen the 7-0 Bulldogs lose at the hands of Arizona in game number eight, most recently in the 2014-15 season.
Arizona has won six of the series’ seven meetings, most recently last season in Spokane. Gonzaga’s lone victory in the series came in 2011 at KeyArena in Seattle.
If ever there was a Zags team that could find success against an opponent like Arizona that has so thoroughly dominated it in the win column, this one has to be it. A balanced, potent offense and stifling defense have Mark Few’s Zags ranked above, and favored over, Sean Miller’s Wildcats.
Through seven games the Zags’ have used a combination of depth and balance — seven players have led the team in scoring — to post 85.6 points per game and come in at number 12 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings.
Depth has been an issue all season for the Wildcats, and it only got worse on Wednesday when guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright (8 ppg, 5.3 apg) suffered a high ankle sprain. There is no timetable for the junior starter’s return.
That will put even more pressure on Finnish freshman phenom Lauri Markkanen (18.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg). Though it will be hard to expect much more from productivity from the seven-footer considering the size, skill and sheer number of bigs he will be facing.
The Zags start seven foot senior Przemek Karnowski (10.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg) alongside Missouri transfer Johnathan Williams (10.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg). They then wear opponents out by bringing seven footer Zach Collins (11.6 ppg) and 6-foot-10 Killian Tillie (5.9 rpg) off the bench.
One of just 15 undefeated teams remaining, as of press time, the Trojans are off to their best start since 2000. They’ll face a BYU team desperate for a signature win after two disappointing losses before Thanksgiving.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright (10.8 ppg) won’t be available after suffering an MCL sprain in his left knee on Wednesday against San Diego.
That’s one less pair of legs to run up and down the court against the uptempo Cougars, who average 88.3 points and 82.7 possessions per game.
For the high-scoring Cougars most of the work is done inside the arc. Sophomore forward Eric Mika (19.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg) has posted three double-doubles this season. He’s a big reason why the Cougars score 55 percent of their points inside the three-point line. The other reason, however, is that they’ve been a downright awful three point shooting team. After a 4-for-20 performance from deep against Utah State, BYU is now shooting just 30.3 percent from distance this season.
Poor shooting will play right into the Trojans’ hands, as USC boasts the 23rd best effective field goal percentage defense in the nation (43.4%).
The Cougars, on the other hand, don’t have a defense they can hang their hat on. They let Utah Valley drop 114 points on them last week at home. Defensive issues should worry BYU fans because even without Boatwright the Trojans have six players averaging double figures this season, led by junior guard Elijah Stewart (16.0 ppg).