The preseason rankings and hype surrounding Gonzaga basketball take a backseat to an actual basketball game Tuesday.
The third-ranked Zags entertain Idaho State at the McCarthey Athletic Center, which hasn’t been a hospitable place for visitors. GU is 29-0 in home openers dating back to 1988, including all 14 at the MAC.
“It’s kind of a load off our shoulders,” sophomore forward Corey Kispert said of launching the season. “There’s no rankings based off what we’re expected to do, just the product we put on the floor is what we’re going to be judged by. Having our future in our own hands is kind of a relief.”
The Zags’ biggest nonconference games are on the horizon, with the Maui Invitational Nov. 19-21 and four key matchups Dec. 1-Dec. 15.
“I’m really excited for the month ahead,” Kispert said. “November is going to be huge.”
So is early November, as the Zags dial in the rotation, with forward Killian Tillie (ankle) sidelined for eight weeks and the continuation of grad transfer Geno Crandall’s crash-course introduction to GU basketball. He’s been in town for just over three weeks, but managed eight points, four assists and four rebounds in last Thursday’s exhibition win over Central Washington.
“It felt good,” Crandall said after the CWU contest, “but Tuesday is the day we really get going. That’s when it counts.”
Idaho State, coming off a 14-16 season and 9-9 Big Sky Conference mark, returns its top two scorers in Brandon Boyd and Jared Stutzman. Both averaged 14.9 points and were responsible for 110 of the school-record 252 3-pointers last season.
The 6-foot-6 Stutzman was third-team All Big Sky while the 6-1 Boyd was honorable mention and voted the conference’s top reserve. Stutzman connected on 52 percent of his 3-pointers.
The Bengals made a program record 39.6 percent beyond the 3-point line last season. Gonzaga stymied Central Washington in the first half, but the Wildcats made seven 3s in the second half.
“Playing in the scrimmage (against Michigan State) and the (exhibition game), there were a lot of good things and certainly some things we have to work on and correct,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
ISU lost the inside presence of Novak Topalovic, a 7-foot center who opted to join Utah as a grad transfer, but signed 6-11 Kelvin Jones, one of three junior college transfers who began their careers at D-I schools.
The Bengals also bring a familiar face in 5-8 senior guard Sam Dowd. The Gonzaga Prep and North Idaho College graduate was honored with the U.S. Basketball Writers Association’s Most Courageous Award last season at the Final Four. Dowd overcame numerous obstacles as a youngster, including periods of homelessness.
ISU was picked to finish eighth out of 11 teams in the preseason Big Sky poll.
Gonzaga will wear customized turquoise uniforms in Tuesday’s game as part of the school’s and Nike N7’s celebration of Native American Heritage Month.
This will mark the third game in four seasons that Gonzaga has worn turquoise uniforms. Turquoise is symbolic of friendship and fellowship in Native American cultures.
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