By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com
On Thursday night at 8pm, the Zags and Gaels will renew their storied rivalry on the hardwood in front of a nationally televised audience (ESPNU). Over the last decade, WCC fans have been spoiled with countless great games between these two clubs. Mark Few and Randy Bennett replenish their talent pool every year it seems, always ready to make an honest run at a WCC crown come March.
After last week's loss at home to BYU, Gonzaga has dropped out of the AP Top-25 for the first time in recent memory. At 6-1 in conference, they share the same WCC record as St. Mary's. Surprisingly, SMC received eight AP Top-25 votes to Gonzaga's five this week.*
To Mark Few's credit, the Zags four total losses this season are nothing to be ashamed of. Notorious for playing a treacherous non-conference schedule, this year's Gonzaga team has lost to (#25) Texas A&M, (#19) Arizona, UCLA, and BYU.
Traditionally a school known for relying on productive and exciting guards, this year's version of the Zags hinges more on their inside presence. With guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. gone, the face of their program is now 6'10" senior Kyle Wiltjer (22ppg), who is a dynamic offensive scorer who will be tough to contain for the Gaels. Wiltjer is flanked down low by Domantas Sabonis (Arvydas' son), a hefty big man who has a polished offensive skill set, similar to his father.
Countering the Zags' two-headed monster will be a surprising Gaels team led by, you guessed it, a crop of crafty Australians. Emmett Naar and Dane Pineau lead an offense that is shooting a Warriors-esque 46% from three-point land. Sophomore Aussie Jock Landale has also come on strong as of late, winning WCC Player of the Week honors following his 7-for-7, 24-point performance on Thursday versus UOP.
The Gaels only bad loss this year came on the road at Pepperdine, falling to Waves in Malibu by three. Randy Bennett's only other blemish this year was a hard fought four-point loss at CAL, a game in which the upstart Gaels earned a great deal of respect from Cuonzo Martin.
As we now approach late January, there is not a single Mid-Major in the Top-25. It is rare that Gonzaga makes their trip to Moraga without at number next to their name, so you have to believe the McKeon Pavilion faithful will be smelling blood in the water on Thursday night. Adam Morrison certainly isn't walking through that door...
* Section925 has yet to earn a voting seat at the Associated Press table.