Portland is in for a tough one this weekend.
This Saturday, the Portland Pilots men’s basketball team will face off against the Gonzaga Bulldogs. This is the only time the Pilots will play the Bulldogs this year, since the WCC shortened the conference schedule from 18 games to 16.
The last time these two teams met at the Chiles Center, Gonzaga won 95-79, which was a more successful outing for Portland than earlier that season when they lost 103-57.
Tip-off is at 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on ROOT Sports. Students who are unable to get tickets are encouraged to watch in the Pilot House, where the game will be televised.
What to know about Gonzaga
Gonzaga is not just the best team in the conference — it’s one of the best in the nation. The Bulldogs are 16-2, with their only two losses against Tennessee and North Carolina, who are ranked third and 13th in the latest AP poll, respectively. Gonzaga is ranked fifth in the latest AP poll and was No. 1 earlier this year after beating Duke in the Maui Invitational 89-87. Duke is the current No. 1 team.
The Bulldogs have been dominant on offense, averaging 92.2 points per game. They’ve been held under 80 points only one time this season, against a strong Tennessee team that features premier players such as Grant Williams and Admiral Schoefield and is a legitimate title contender. Gonzaga has plenty of players that are capable of going off on big scoring runs at any moment.
Junior Rui Hachimura has broken out this year for the Zags. He made Wooden Award Men’s Midseason Top 25 list and has been the best player for Gonzaga so far this year. Last year against the Pilots, he dominated in the first game but was much quieter in the second game. While he poured in 20 points on 8-10 shooting in the first match up last year, he only scored two points the second time around. But he’s improved since last year, and should be a problem for the Pilots on both ends of the floor.
He’s not the only threat that Pilot head coach Terry Porter will have to plan around. Gonzaga big man and redshirt junior Brandon Clarke is one of the best shot-blockers in college basketball, swatting away 3.2 of the shots thrown his direction. He’s a great athlete who’s going to wreak havoc in the paint on defense. Redshirt senior point guard Josh Perkins is also going to be key for the Zags. He leads the conference in assists per game at 6.7, directing this powerful offense.
On top of all of that, two players who have dealt with injuries all year, junior Killian Tillie and redshirt senior Geno Crandall, are slowly returning to form. They’re both integral to the team and will be huge helping them in March during the postseason, but what’s more relevant to the Pilots is how dangerous Tillie is. He scored 27 on Portland last year at the Chiles Center, and even though he’s still getting back into game shape, he could still be dangerous against the Pilots.
In short, Gonzaga is just plainly one of the best teams in the country, and the Pilots have their work cut out for them.
What to know about Portland
Portland and Gonzaga are on opposite ends of the spectrum regarding the quality of basketball being played. While Gonzaga sits firmly at the top of the WCC throne, Portland is at the very bottom of the conference. They’re 7-11 this season and 0-3 in conference play. None of those seven wins have come against a team from a Power 5 conference. Their most impressive result this year is probably a victory against Florida A&M, when they only gave up 39 points. They only scored 54 in that game also, which is not a lot, especially against a weaker Florida A&M team.
Right now, the Pilots are averaging 69.4 points per game while giving up an average of 74.1. Their points per possession on offense sits at a conference worst .973 versus Division 1 competition. They’re the only team in the conference averaging under one point per possession. On the other end of the floor, they’re giving 1.051 points per possession, which isn’t the worst in the conference (Pepperdine holds that title), but it is second to worst and something the Pilots need to work on.
They have not played well against WCC competition so far. Granted, the WCC is significantly better this year than last, and has a legitimate case for having two teams play in the NCAA tournament in March as opposed to just having Gonzaga. But still, the Pilots lost by 23 points to BYU 79-56, lost to a Loyola Marymount — a team not as good as their record suggests — 76-64 and just lost Pacific at home last Saturday 65-57. The Pacific game was winnable, and probably could’ve ended differently had the Pilots made their free throws towards the end. Alas, they did not, and are currently winless in conference.
The brightside for the Pilots is that they are still young and have time to improve. There isn’t a senior on the roster, and the young guys show some promise. Sophomores Marcus Shaver Jr. and Jojo Walker have been solid in the backcourt for the Pilots this year, averaging 14.8 and 13.1 points per game respectively. Redshirt junior Josh McSwiggan is one of the best shooters in the conference and would benefit from shooting the ball more than he currently does. Last year, he was top three in three-point percentage in all of the conference. He has shot 90 percent from the free throw line this year as well. He’s also got the athleticism to handle difficult shots, and has shown big scoring potential with games like the one against Multnomah where he scored 37. More actions that involve him in the offense will be key against Gonzaga and for the Pilots moving forward.
On top of these guys, redshirt junior Crisshwan Clark is working his way back from an ankle injury earlier this season. If he can get healthy, he can provide a spark for this team. The posts for this team have also shown their value on both ends of the floor. Theo Akwuba has played pretty well for a freshman, most notably on defense. He’s averaging almost two blocks a game as a freshman, showing great timing in the post. He’ll be key in the years to come. Redshirt freshman Hugh Hogland has played well, even starting some games for the Pilots. Sophomore Jacob Tryon is also working his way back from injury, and once he’s healthy he can provide shooting that most big men can’t.
Overall, all these guys can be pretty good in the future. But right now, they still have some work to do, and they’re about to play their most difficult game of the year.
So what happens on Saturday?
If we’re being honest here, there’s a 99 percent chance that Gonzaga wins this game. They’re too well-coached, too star-studded and just too good not to lose, especially against a team that is, frankly, one of the worst in the conference.
This Gonzaga team is arguably better than the one Portland faced last year, and that team won by a margin of almost 50 against the Pilots. Portland is struggling on defense going up against one of the best teams in the nation on offense. It’s a recipe for disaster for UP.
This might be Gonzaga’s year that they win it all, and it surely isn’t the year of the Pilots. They’re time will come eventually once they’ve got some more experience under their belt. The future has the chance to be kind to the Pilots.
But we’re not dealing with the future. We’re dealing with the present; and this present-day Portland squad is not ready to run with a juggernaut like Gonzaga. Maybe someday in the future they’ll be able to handle them but for now, all they can hope to do is stay competitive.