Gonzaga will celebrate seniors, tune up for postseason in home finale against Chicago State
Feb. 28, 2023 Updated Tue., Feb. 28, 2023 at 8:27 p.m.
At first glance, there’s a level of randomness to Gonzaga’s regular-season finale, at home Wednesday night against Chicago State, which checks in at No. 285 on the NCAA’s NET rankings and No. 277 on Ken Pomeroy’s website.
Gonzaga hasn’t closed the regular season with a nonconference opponent since hosting Longwood in 2011-12, but Wednesday’s game should serve multiple purposes as the Bulldogs prepare for a stretch of postseason games that begins Monday night at the West Coast Conference Tournament.
Wednesday’s game against Chicago State gives Gonzaga a chance to celebrate the team’s seniors without simultaneously juggling the high stakes and pressure that normally come with the team’s home finale. In two of the past three seasons, there have been WCC regular-season title ramifications during Senior Day.
Gonzaga (25-5) beat Saint Mary’s 77-68 on Saturday to claim a share of the WCC title, so the Bulldogs will enter a relatively low-pressure setting as an overwhelming favorite against Chicago State (11-18), one of two college basketball teams playing as a Division I Independent.
In years following the COVID-19-impacted 2020-21 season, Senior Day has taken on a different meaning, with players eligible to return for a fifth year of eligibility. Gonzaga will be sending off at least two of them on Wednesday.
Drew Timme, who has a chance to leave Gonzaga as a three-time All-American and the program’s career scoring leader, revealed to The Athletic’s Seth Davis on Saturday he plans to pursue a professional career rather than return for a fifth season. Shooting guard Rasir Bolton exercised that option when he decided to come back for 2022-23 and, like Timme, will be playing his final game at the McCarthey Athletic Center .
Forward Anton Watson and reserve guard Malachi Smith could return to play a fifth season, but neither has hinted at plans for 2023-24.
“There’s some real names we’re going to be celebrating on Wednesday and we just kind of talked about (that) in the locker room for a second,” junior wing Julian Strawther said. “Yeah, we’re going to come out here and we’re going to try to come out swinging and make sure it’s a good last hurrah for those guys and that we send them off right. So, I think we’re all looking forward to it and it should be a special night.”
The game also offers a valuable tuneup as the Zags prepare for critical games in March.
It’s common for Gonzaga to go more than a week without playing a game between the final game of the regular season and conference tournament semifinal. Because the WCC Tournament wraps up before most other tournaments start, the Bulldogs typically go another full week without playing before the NCAA Tournament.
The 2021-22 team played just two games over an 18-day stretch between the regular-season finale against Saint Mary’s on Feb. 26 and a first-round NCAA game against Georgia State on March 17.
Gonzaga will face a similar layoff between the conference tournament and NCAA Tournament, but there won’t be as much rust buildup by the time the Bulldogs take the floor in Las Vegas on Monday.
Chicago State has the lowest NET ranking of any team on Gonzaga’s schedule this season. The Cougars have won just seven games against Division I opposition this season.
Previously a member of the Western Athletic Conference, Chicago State is playing as a Division I independent for the first time this season. Two of the Cougars’ seven D-I wins have come against Hartford, the only other college basketball team playing an independent schedule.
The Cougars are on an upswing , winning seven of their past nine games – four coming against D-I teams.
During that stretch, Chicago State held a 41-34 halftime lead against Pac-12 opponent Stanford before losing 72-65 on the road.
Kent State is the only common opponent for Gonzaga and Chicago State. Behind the low-post scoring of Timme, the Bulldogs rallied late to beat the Golden Flashes 73-68 on Dec. 5 in Spokane. Kent State raced past Chicago State for an 88-59 win on Nov. 19.
Chicago State’s small-ball lineup, which doesn’t feature anyone taller than 6-foot-6, is led by Wesley Cardet Jr., a former four-star recruit and Samford transfer averaging better than 16 points per game.
Guard Jahsean Corbett averages 13.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, leading the Cougars in the latter category.
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