Pitt's basketball season kicks off on Friday against Gonzaga. The two teams will play in a unique environment as the game will be overseas in Okinawa, Japan.
We've had a difficult time getting a handle on this season's Pitt team, let alone their opponents. To help with some thoughts on Gonzaga, we've enlisted the help of Peter Woodburn from The Slipper Still Fits, SB Nation's Gonzaga blog. I also answered some questions from the Pitt side, which you can read over on their site.
Here are Peter's responses to my questions:
What are the expectations for Gonzaga this season?
Expectations are as high as they’ve ever been. The Zags opened up with their highest ranking in the AP Poll since the 2005-06 season. Kyle Wiltjer’s been tabbed as a pre-season All-American favorite and a quick Google search reveals that the Bulldogs apparently have the best frontcourt in the nation. This, combined with Gonzaga finally making the Elite Eight against last year, has Spokane in even more of a fever pitch than it usually is.
Coach Mark Few has turned down other coaching jobs over the years and looks like he could be a lifer at Gonzaga. Can you envision a scenario where he willingly leaves to go elsewhere?
A situation where he leaves? Possibly. Willingly? Not at all. Maybe, and a big maybe, if he wins a national title at Gonzaga, but the thing that the rest of the country has a hard time understanding is that Mark Few really, really loves Spokane. He loves the scenery, he loves the fishing, he lives, eats, and breathes that town. For him to move would not only change his professional life, but his personal life mightily. For that reason, it is really hard to see him ever leaving.
Like Pitt, Gonzaga hasn't been able to break through to a Final Four appearance yet. And before last year's Elite Eight run, Gonzaga had been on a streak of many early NCAA Tournament exits. I'm curious to know how other fanbases handle that despite the regular season success. Pitt is another program with a lot of regular season success and despite that, there is still a pocket of the fanbase that wants them to already start looking beyond Jamie Dixon.
The fanbase handles it usually two different ways: 1) The fall back on how rare it is what a school the size of Gonzaga has done, and continues to do; 2) They call for Mark Few’s head. The latter is what comes out the loudest, because it needs to be since like I said above, Few isn’t going anywhere. Mainly, however, it seems like a lot of people were beginning to resign themselves to the fact that Gonzaga could just never play with the big school’s on the biggest stage. Last year’s run might help change that tune a little bit.
Can you talk a little bit about Gonzaga's size up front as they have four players at 6'10" or taller? What kind of players are they?
This is Gonzaga’s biggest strength, and it will be the one that teams have the hardest time dealing with. First up, you have Kyle Wiltjer, a tall and lanky kid who can post you up or can easily step out beyond the arc and bury a three in your face. He is the player that will stretch opposing defense’s the most, which works out well because Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski are the bruisers down low.
Sabonis is the son of Arvydas Sabonis, and he plays with perhaps the most fire on the entire team. Sabonis relentlessly attacks the rim on both sides of the glass and rarely loses track of the ball when he is down low. Last year, as a freshman, he was also prone to dumb, emotional fouls, so we’ll see if that is in check with a bit more experience.
Somehow, amongst these three, Karnowski is one rarely spoken about. The senior from Poland is a hulking man-beast with incredibly soft hands and a passing eye as good as the elder Sabonis. Karnowski’s game is pretty fluid and consistent all-around, including his complete inability to make free throws.
Then, you have the little cherub Ryan Edwards. Edwards is a sophomore from Montana who took a red-shirt last year. No one really knows quite what to think, because he played such limited minutes as a freshman. The hype train out of Spokane has gone out of control on him, however, thanks to the Gonzaga Redshirt Program For Future Champions™ that helped produce Kelly Olynyk and Wiltjer.
Give us a prediction for this week's game.
I earlier called this game against Pitt as a trap game for the Zags. The Panthers are undersized, but that also means they are faster. With both teams travelling so far away, it’ll be tough to know if either team has an edge as far as "home court" might go. I think it’ll be a close game, but I think the Zags will also survive the gut check and come out ahead, 66-60.