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Zags try to find comfort zone

Good evening from Denver. Gonzaga practiced at D-II Regis University, where Donny Daniels' son, Eric, is an assistant coach. Press conferences here this evening and then a short, fan-friendly practice capped by the usual half-court shooting contest (Monninghoff hit the only one).

Here's my game preview. A capsule look at the matchup below.

GONZAGA

Region: Southeast

Coach: Mark Few

Record: 24-9

Top scorer: Steven Gray 13.8

Top rebounder: Robert Sacre 6.2

Keys to victory: The Bulldogs need to take care of the ball and find a way to score effectively against St. John’s zone defense. They hope to operate inside-outside. What would make that easier is if the Zags can hit some perimeter shots, a job that falls mainly on Steven Gray and Marquise Carter, and possibly Mathis Mönninghoff off the bench. GU made a respectable 36.6 percent of its 3-pointers on the season, but that dropped to 34.3 in WCC games and 30.4 in the conference tournament. The Zags have a size advantage inside and want to exploit it with post touches in the paint and by their work on the glass. At the other end of the court, Gonzaga’s challenge begins with transition defense. After that, the key will be defending versatile guard Dwight Hardy, who scores in a variety of ways. St. John’s has attempted 110 more free throws than its opponents and Hardy has attempted a whopping 178 free throws. If GU can contain Hardy without fouling, St. John’s offensive weapons become limited, especially without third leading scorer D.J. Kennedy, who tore his ACL last week. Gonzaga, with its man or 1-2-2 zone, will probably try to make Red Storm perimeter shooters prove themselves.

 

ST. JOHN’S

Region: Southeast

Coach: Steve Lavin

Record: 21-11

Top scorer: Dwight Hardy, 18.0

Top rebounder: Justin Brownlee, 5.3

(D.J. Kennedy, 5.6 rpg, is injured)

Keys to victory: The Red Storm needs somebody to replace the numerous contributions of injured forward D.J. Kennedy, a talented rebounder, scorer, shooter and defender. That will likely fall on senior forward Sean Evans, who has played well over the last 10 games. St. John’s is fueled by its zone defense, an aggressive, trapping scheme that often leads to points at the offensive end. The Red Storm has a number of long, athletic players that can handle the ball and push the pace after opponents’ turnovers or after grabbing a defensive rebound. They are a bit vulnerable inside, which became an issue in the loss to Syracuse in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, particularly after Kennedy’s injury. A quick start will be important for St. John’s, which isn’t built to rally from 8-10 point deficits.




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Jim Meehan
Jim Meehan's coverage areas include Gonzaga University men's basketball, Spokane Shock football, golf and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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