The early schedule in college basketball is defined by the preseason tournaments. For the No. 19 Gonzaga Bulldogs, their big preseason tournament is the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Florida. While that tournament doesn’t start until November 22, the Zags look ready to roll after a dominant 84-50 win over the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Gonzaga welcomed West Virginia to the Kennel to kick off ESPN’s 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon in the Zags’ lone challenge before packing their bags for Orlando. Head coach Mark Few was worried about how his team would handle the length and athleticism of Bob Huggins‘ Mountaineers squad. He was pleased that those worries were put to rest early.
Despite starting the game shooting just 4-of-15 from the field in the first eight minutes, Gonzaga built an early 15-2 lead. They distanced themselves when they got hot, finishing the first half shooting 51 percent from the field and 6-of-11 from 3-point range, building a 45-18 halftime lead as West Virginia managed to shoot just 21 percent from the field.
The Zags didn’t let up in the second half, using unrelenting defensive pressure to frustrate the Mountaineers, who finished the game shooting just 27 percent, had only one player score in double digits, made just 3-of-26 from 3-point range and turned the ball over 20 times. It was not the debut Huggins was hoping for with a team filled with transfers.
Few, on the other hand, has to be pleased with what he saw from his team. Led by Gary Bell Jr., who scored 15 points, Gonzaga had five players score in double digits and they were deadly accurate from a distance, connecting on 9-of-16 from 3-point range. Most importantly to Few, they won the rebounding battle 38-36, which was the area he was most concerned with.
Gonzaga hosts the South Dakota Coyotes in the McCarthey Athletic Center on November 18 before heading to the Old Spice Classic. They will be the favorite to win as the only ranked team heading to Orlando as they open the tournament against the Clemson Tigers. Other notable teams in attendance include the Oklahoma Sooners, Davidson Wildcats, and this same West Virginia team that Gonzaga blew out of the gym.
Gonzaga already looks like the best team in the tournament, and they aren’t even at full strength yet. 7-foot junior Kelly Olynyk has yet to make his debut this season as he serves a three game suspension for violating Gonzaga’s “student code of conduct.” He’ll miss the Zags’ next game against South Dakota, but will be back in time for the Old Spice opener against Clemson.
Olynyk spent time with the Canadian national team this summer, along with point guard Kevin Pangos, and was described by Few as the “most improved player” from last season to this one. The lanky Canadian, who red-shirted last season, gives Gonzaga a pair of 7-footers along with Polish freshman Przemek Karnowski. That formidable front court makes a deep Bulldogs’ roster all the more dangerous this season.
So with perhaps his most talented roster ever, Mark Few prepares his team to roll through the Old Spice Classic. Winning the tournament would catapult the Zags into the discussion of top teams capable of making a Final Four run in March. After last night’s win over a talented West Virginia squad, they look ready to make it happen.