If you are located on the east coast, I hope you plan to stay up late to watch this battle between the San Francisco Dons and the Gonzaga Bulldogs; there is nothing like some late-night basketball in March!
After a slower-than-usual start to the 2022-23 season, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have turned things around quite a bit, winning seven-straight games and ten of their past 11. The Bulldogs’ only loss during that stretch came on the road against the No. 1-seeded Saint Mary’s Gaels, who rank seventh in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, an incredible mark for a mid-major team!
The Bulldogs rank first in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric; it was clear at the beginning of the season that they were going to have an elite attack on that end of the floor with All-American Drew Timme back in the mix. The ‘Zags also brought Julian Strawther, Rasir Bolton, Anton Watson, and Nolan Hickman back, while corralling in Malachi Smith as a transfer.
What we did not expect was Gonzaga’s horrible defense, which ranks just 87th in adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation. The potential danger for Gonzaga in not only this game, but in future tournament games, is how it can allow opponents to get hot due to its lackadaisical defense. The Dons certainly have the capability to get hot; they dropped 93 points in their last game against Santa Clara.
The “X Factor” in San Francisco’s last game was its best player, Khalil Shabazz, who posted 38 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. These are outrageous numbers for a college player. Despite being streaky at times, Shabazz can get very, very hot; he could certainly put together another masterclass in scoring against the ‘Zags.
These two teams have already battled twice this season, with Gonzaga winning both matchups; however, the Dons lost by just two points when they hosted the Bulldogs in early January. Does San Francisco have a chance to pull off an upset here?
I don’t believe that San Francisco gets the win in this spot, but 13 points is way too wide of a margin for a game with such high stakes. A win for the Dons can put them one game closer to an unexpected NCAA Tournament birth. They are going to give it all they have, and Shabazz could carry that momentum from last game into this one.