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Gonzaga Basketball

Coming off Washington defeat, Gonzaga looks to rebound against winless Mississippi Valley State

When Gonzaga released its nonconference schedule, Monday’s game against Mississippi Valley State was projected as a chance for the Bulldogs to tune things up between an emotional rivalry game at Washington and a highly anticipated Elite Eight rematch against UConn six days later.

Coming off a 78-73 upset loss to the Pac-12 Huskies, Gonzaga’s next contest, against the SWAC Delta Devils, now serves a few purposes as the Bulldogs look to get right and restore confidence before returning to Seattle to face the reigning national champions later this week.

“Anything can happen, I think that we’re going to get better after tonight and continuing forward,” senior forward Anton Watson said Saturday from outside Gonzaga’s locker room at UW’s Alaska Airlines Arena. “I don’t think one loss, two losses, is going to determine a season. I think we all have that mindset, throw this one away and get back to the gym and keep working.”

The Bulldogs (7-2) may not encounter a bigger discrepancy in quality from one opponent to the next than they will this week, facing winless Mississippi Valley State (0-9) on Monday (6 p.m., KHQ) before linking up with fifth-ranked Connecticut on Friday at Climate Pledge Arena.

The third of four SWAC teams Gonzaga will face during nonconference play, MVSU is one of five Division I teams that still hadn’t won a game as of Sunday night, joining North Carolina A&T, Detroit Mercy, Texas Southern and Georgia Southern.

The Delta Devils’ nine losses have come by a margin of 33.3 points per game – eight of which came by at least 31 points. MVSU, which opened its year against a string of high-major opponents (LSU, Oklahoma, UConn, TCU), forced overtime during a Nov. 26 game at Pacific before losing 68-65.

Of the 362 teams that play Division I basketball, the Delta Devils rank No. 362 according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings scale, with a ranking of No. 362 in adjusted offense and 355 in adjusted defense.

Statistically speaking, MVSU’s offense is averaging 49.7 points per game – the lowest mark in the country – and the Delta Devils rank bottom-three nationally in a variety of other categories including team field goal percentage (35.5%), defensive rebounds per game (19.1), 3-pointers per game (3.3) and turnover margin (-6.0).

One week after their 111-71 blowout of an Arkansas-Pine Bluff team that ranks No. 347 on the KenPom scale, the Zags enter Monday’s game against MVSU favored by 40.5 points according to DraftKings sportsbook.

It presents the Bulldogs with another good opportunity to get a deeper look at their bench and potentially develop confidence in reserve players who could help them in key upcoming nonconference games, or down the road in West Coast Conference play.

Few’s been reluctant to expand his rotation beyond seven to eight players the longtime GU coach admitted Saturday fatigue might have had a role in the inconsistent play of his starting guards down the stretch of the UW loss.

Ryan Nembhard and Nolan Hickman didn’t come off the floor, nor did Watson, so managing the workload of the starting five should be front of mind for Few and his staff Monday night, particularly with the UConn game arriving a mere four days later.

MVSU is led by senior guard Rayquan Brown, who averages 15.3 points and 4.5 rebounds for the Delta Devils, but did not play in the team’s most recent game against Liberty. It’s unclear why Brown was absent or if he’ll be available to play against Gonzaga.

Delta Devils coach George Ivory is the program’s career assists leader and spent 13 seasons at Arkansas-Pine Bluff before accepting the position at MVSU in March 2022.