Saint Joseph's-Gonzaga Preview
Possessing the talent and depth to succeed at both ends of the floor, Gonzaga has shown why expectations appear to be even loftier for one of the nation's most successful programs.
The No. 13 Bulldogs look to continue their early dominance Wednesday night against visiting Saint Joseph's in this regional matchup of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
With three starters and two key reserves back from last season's 29-win team, plus two seasoned transfers and a pair of highly touted freshmen added to the mix, this could be coach Mark Few's most complete squad since he took over in 1999.
"They're deep. They've got great guard play. They've got depth and size," SMU coach Larry Brown said after his No. 22 Mustangs' 72-56 loss to the Bulldogs on Monday.
"I love `em. ... I think everyone knows they're a contender."
With 17 straight seasons of at least 23 wins and 16 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, Gonzaga (2-0) has long shed its mid-major label. After handling a talented SMU team, the Bulldogs firmly backed Brown's statement.
After shooting 54.5 percent in a 104-58 rout of Sacramento, Gonzaga shot 45.0 percent Monday and went 10 of 24 from 3-point range for the second straight contest. The Bulldogs held their first two opponents to a combined 33.3 percent shooting, including the Mustangs to 24.2 in the second half.
"That's going to be a great win for us," said Few, whose .802 winning percentage is the best among active coaches. "It's one we're going to be able to put in our back pocket and it'll serve us well in March."
Kevin Pangos led Gonzaga with 17 points and seven assists while going 5 of 8 from beyond the arc. Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer was the only other Bulldogs starter in double figures with 10 points, but freshman Domantas Sabonis added 13 with nine boards in 20 minutes against the Mustangs.
"They're a great team," SMU forward Ben Moore said. "They do everything right, basically. They're patient on offense and great defensively."
Few knows an important factor to Gonzaga's success is the play and health of Pangos, a four-year starter who averaged a career-high 14.4 points while playing all 36 games last season despite dealing with toe and ankle problems.
"You are seeing a healthy Kevin," Few said. "He's a different guy out there."
Pangos also is benefiting from the arrivals of Wiltjer, USC transfer Byron Wesley, Sabonis and freshman guard Josh Perkins.
"The new guys are great," Pangos said. "They're buying into our system, and you can tell they are just performing."
The Bulldogs don't expect that to change as they try for a 28th consecutive victory at the raucous McCarthey Athletic Center.
Saint Joseph's (1-1) has not beaten a ranked opponent on the road since a 37-36 victory at then-No. 15 Georgetown on Jan. 2, 1979. The Hawks are 0-2 at Gonzaga, and lost 70-65 in overtime at home in the teams' most recent meeting Nov. 29, 2007.
After the Hawks lost 58-57 to Fairleigh Dickinson on a late 3-pointer Friday, they overcame a seven-point deficit in the final 12 1/2 minutes to win 52-49 at Drexel on Monday.
DeAndre Bembry, the top returning scorer from last season's 24-10 team that won the Atlantic 10 tournament, has team highs of 21 points and seven assists through two contests.