The list of Gonzaga’s and college basketball’s best nonconference games have a lot in common.
The Zags tangle with four foes inside the AP preseason poll top 15, led by a potential 1-vs.-2 showdown with UCLA. Both teams face major challenges to retain their preseason rankings prior to their Nov. 23 date at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Top-ranked Gonzaga entertains No. 5 Texas on Nov. 13. No. 4 Villanova visits No. 2 UCLA on Nov. 12. Add in Duke and Alabama and the Zags have four monster matchups on their November/December slate.
Here’s a glance at GU’s top four nonconference matchups.
Gonzaga vs. UCLA
Fans inside T-Mobile Arena are in for a treat if the Zags and Bruins come anywhere close to replicating last April’s epic game, won by Gonzaga 93-90 in overtime on Jalen Suggs’ 40-footer at the buzzer.
Seven Zags played in that Final Four instant classic but only three – Drew Timme, Andrew Nembhard and Anton Watson – are back. Suggs, Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi have moved on to the NBA, but the Zags replenished their roster with Iowa State grad transfer Rasir Bolton and freshmen Chet Holmgren, Hunter Sallis, Nolan Hickman and Kaden Perry.
Meanwhile, the Bruins essentially return every key player, including All-America candidate Johnny Juzang. The 6-foot-7 wing scored 29 points against Gonzaga. Fellow starters Jaime Jaquez Jr., Cody Riley and Tyger Campbell combined for 50 points. UCLA also added five-star wing Peyton Watson and Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson.
Both teams appear to have the firepower to stage another high-scoring contest.
UCLA is heavily favored to win the Pac-12, earning 32 of 34 first-place votes in the preseason media poll.
Gonzaga vs. No. 5 Texas
The Longhorns hired Chris Beard on April 1, and the former Texas Tech head coach immediately went to work in the transfer portal.
Texas landed six transfers ranked in ESPN’s top 30. Each new addition seemed to move the Longhorns up a few spots in the way-too-early rankings.
Guard Marcus Carr (Minnesota) averaged 19.4 points and 4.9 assists last season. Small forward Timmy Allen (Utah) was first-team All-Pac-12 after averaging 17.2 points and 6.4 boards. Center Tre Mitchell (Massachusetts) averaged 18.8 points and 7.2 rebounds while earning first-team All-Atlantic 10 honors.
Forward Christian Bishop (Creighton) contributed 11.0 points and 6.4 rebounds. Power forward Dylan Disu (Vanderbilt) produced 15.0 points and 9.2 boards. Point guard Devin Askew (Kentucky) averaged 6.5 points and 2.9 assists as a freshman.
The newcomers probably won’t duplicate their stats from last year, particularly with returning guards Andrew Jones (14.6 points) and Courtney Ramey (12.2 points) in a crowded backcourt, but the Longhorns have assembled an impressive roster.
Texas was picked second in the Big 12 preseason poll, sandwiched between No. 3 Kansas and No. 8 Baylor.
Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Duke
The Zags and Blue Devils renew acquaintances for the first time since Gonzaga’s 89-87 victory over then-No. 1 Duke in the Maui Invitational championship game.
There was plenty of star power in that 2018 game with GU’s Rui Hachimura (tourney MVP) and Brandon Clarke going against Duke’s Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. Same goes this time around when the teams clash Nov. 26 in Las Vegas.
Both teams have four players on preseason watch lists: Nembhard and Jeremy Roach, Bob Cousy point guard award; Sallis, Jerry West shooting guard award; Duke’s AJ Griffin, Julius Erving small forward award; Timme and Paolo Banchero, Karl Malone power forward award; and Holmgren and Mark Williams, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar center award.
The 6-10, 250-pound Banchero had 21 points and nine boards in 20 minutes in Duke’s exhibition game win Tuesday. The Seattle native and Holmgren are leading candidates for the top spot in the 2022 NBA draft.
It’s also an intriguing matchup on the sidelines between Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Mike Krzyzewski, who is retiring at the end of the season after 42 seasons at Duke. Few is No. 1 in all-time winning percentage (.834) at the Division I or comparable level. Krzyzewski has guided Duke to five national championships and ranks first in D-I career wins (1,170).
Gonzaga vs. No. 14 Alabama
The Crimson Tide, picked second in the SEC behind No. 10 Kentucky, boast one of the best backcourts in the nation.
Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly are preseason All-SEC first-team selections. They’re joined by 6-3 point guard JD Davison, ranked No. 12 in the 2021 class, one spot behind UCLA’s Watson.
Shackelford and Quinerly combined for 115 3-pointers and averaged 26.9 points and 5.2 assists per game last year. Shackelford is on the watch list for the West award and Quinerly is one of 20 on the Cousy watch list.
Davison committed seven turnovers but put up 19 points, four steals, three rebounds and three assists in an exhibition win over Louisiana.
Senior Keon Ellis, a 6-6 guard, led the way with 21 points. Furman grad transfer forward Noah Gurley added 13 points in roughly 20 minutes.
The Crimson Tide have a shot at being undefeated when they take on the Zags on Dec. 4 in the return of the Battle in Seattle. Alabama and Kansas are on opposite sides of the bracket in the ESPN Events Invitational Nov. 25-28 in Orlando, Florida.
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