The no. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs face another early-season challenge when they take on the no. 11 West Virginia Mountaineers on Wednesday night. The game is being played as part of the Jimmy V Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, with the Bulldogs favored by 8.5 points with the over/under set at 154.5 points.
Despite their game with Tennessee being canceled, the Bulldogs are off to an impressive 2-0 start. Gonzaga survived a challenge from Kansas on Thanksgiving, ultimately winning 102-90. Mark Few’s teams then turned around the next day and had no trouble dismantling Auburn 90-67.
As for the Mountaineers, Bob Huggins has his team off to a 3-0 start. Of course, West Virginia’s schedule has been somewhat tame compared to Gonzaga’s early-season schedule. That being said, the Mountaineers have knocked off South Dakota State, VCU, and Western Kentucky, which are all well-respected mid-major programs.
Miles to Go
Sophomore point guard Miles McBride has stepped up as West Virginia’s most-important player early in the season. Thanks to a 23-point outburst against South Dakota State, he’s averaging 16.3 points per game through three games, which is up significantly from 9.5 points per game last season. McBride is also leading the team in assists, although the Mountaineers could be better at sharing the ball. Meanwhile, McBride has plenty of help in the backcourt with Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman. Both are averaging double figures, with Sherman being the team’s biggest perimeter threat.
Of course, the Mountaineers tend to do most of their damage from inside the arc, especially with a big man like Derek Culver. Over the first two games of the season, Culver scored 30 points and hauled in 29 rebounds. Oddly enough, he had just one rebound against Western Kentucky. However, he’s a scoring force inside and a strong defensive presence.
Culver better be ready on Wednesday because Gonzaga’s strength is in the frontcourt. Everybody knows about Corey Kispert, a preseason All-American who is averaging 24 points per game during Gonzaga’s first two wins of the season. However, 6’10’’ sophomore Drew Timme has clearly taken his game to the next level after being a complementary piece last year. He led the way with 25 points against Kansas and followed it up with a 28-point, 10-rebound performance against Auburn.
Meanwhile, the Gonzaga backcourt looks improved from last season as well. Freshman Jalen Suggs looks like the real deal, averaging 18 points and seven assists over two games. Joel Ayayi is also a capable scorer who rebounds better than the average guard. The Bulldogs also get plenty of depth from Florida transfer Andrew Nembhard and Southern Illinois transfer, Aaron Cook.
The presence of Culver in the West Virginia frontcourt will makes this an intriguing matchup, as he can measure up against Gonzaga’s big men. The Mountaineers will also challenge the Bulldogs defensively, especially in the backcourt. While Gonzaga is likely to win, West Virginia has the pieces to give them a hard time. Bet on West Virginia to beat the 8.5-point spread.
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