“Anytime, Anywhere” is Gonzaga men’s basketball’s message to the rest of the country to schedule tough opponents early in the season. And if a game on the flight deck of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier against one of the most historic programs in the country, led by a Hall of Fame coach, doesn’t do justice to that mantra, “Gonzaga ain’t playing nobody.” ” thought lasts forever.
Following their season opening night win over North Florida, the Zags escaped snowy Spokane and headed to sunny San Diego, California to take on the Michigan State Spartans in the Army Classic on Friday. It will mark the first time in a decade that a college basketball game will be played on a ship, an experience that MSU’s Tom Izzo said was one of the best of his head coaching tenure and one of the inspirations for the Veterans Day matchup between the Zags and Spartans.
“Tom Izzo told me it was the biggest event he’s ever been to, outside of the Final Four,” GU head coach Mark Few said. “So I said, ‘OK, I’m in.'”
After finishing seventh in the Big 10 last season, the Spartans spent the offseason preparing for the future rather than the present as they prepare to return with a relatively similar core. Although the 2023 recruiting class is the third-best in the country, the impact the 2022 class will have this season remains to be seen. MSU’s top three scorers have all left campus, and with no movement on the summer transfer portal, it will be down to returning players to replace the scoring.
The Spartans were picked to finish fourth in the Big 10 behind their frontcourt of Malik Hall and Joey Hauser. Hall, the team’s leading rebounder, shot 42.6 percent of his 3-point attempts and finished second on the team in shooting 51.5 percent from the field in just seven games. Selected to the Big 10 preseason team, the 6-foot-8 forward, who Izzo refers to as “OKG” (Our Kinda Guy), is expected to take a big step as a full-time starter this season.
Likewise, Hauser is a prolific 3-point shooter (about 40.8% of his attempts per game) who is expected to excel for the Spartans. The 6-foot-9 redshirt senior had 18 points and 10 rebounds, including four 3-pointers, in a 73-55 win over Northern Arizona on Monday. As someone who works out of the post or at the top of the key, it’s fun to watch how Drew Timm attacks in different positions on offense.
Losing sharpshooter Gabe Brown to the NBA is a significant loss for a top-20 3-point shooting team a season ago, as it remains to be seen if the rest of the team can be productive as a whole. Sophomore guard Pierre Brooks was efficient on the night, going 4-for-7 from deep, but without him and Hauser, the Spartans were a combined 1-for-12 on 3-point attempts. Consistency from the likes of Tyson Walker and Jaden Akins will be crucial for MSU’s offense to thrive in 2022-23.
The Spartans didn’t push the tempo very often last season, as nearly 25% of their shot attempts came in transition (85).Th best in the nation), their defense was almost as ineffective at stopping the fast break (ranked 184thTh nationally) GU’s time-to-shots couldn’t be more different in comparison, and after scoring 28 fast break points in Monday’s season opener, controlling the pace of the game will be a battle throughout Friday’s game.
And as always, expect a brutal fight regardless of the scoreboard.
Some say, “Expect a very, very physical game. As Tom always says, ‘the toughest team wins’.
Few would admit that much should happen at the Zags Monday through Friday, including vacations and packing for the physical Spartans’ “hardhats.” Drew Timm, coming off a 22-point, 3-steal night against North Florida, re-emphasized the importance of keeping MSU off the board and staying aggressive without fouling out.
“We have to develop our attack without compromising it,” Thieme said. If we don’t let teams get into the bonus, we take away their easy points and we always keep going to the glass – I think those are two key areas that we can really work on.
Although the well-coached Spartans battled, GU’s chemistry and talent were negligible in this first season. Thiem and Hauser will be an interesting matchup between two versatile forwards, but it’s tough to beat the two-time All-Americans in this case.
Prediction: Zags 88, Spartans 75