College Basketball Game of the Week: Gonzaga vs. Kansas

Story posted November 26, 2020 in Sports, CommRadio by Jack McCune

After the first March without an NCAA Tournament since 1939, college basketball is ready to return for the 2020 season. The first week will feature over 30 games with ranked teams, most notably No. 1 Gonzaga taking on No. 6 Kansas at Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, Florida on Thanksgiving at 1:30 p.m.

The blue bloods will face for just the second time in history with the first matchup resulting in an 80-66 victory for the Jayhawks back in 1998, the final season before current Gonzaga head coach Mark Few took the helm.

He’s still looking for his first national championship, and while the Zags are losing their frontcourt duo of elite bigs Killian Tillie and Filip Petrusev, Few is confident in the development of sophomore forwards Drew Timme and Anton Watson, who both averaged over three rebounds while playing under 21 minutes. 

They’ll also miss last year’s assist leader Ryan Woolridge, but the backcourt will feature some familiarity in senior Corey Kispert and redshirt junior Joel Ayayi, both coming off double-digit scoring campaigns.

Bill Self’s Jayhawks will look to replicate a successful 28-3 season without their leading scorer in Devon Dotson and leading rebounder in Udoka Azubuike, who have both moved on to the NBA.

But as per usual, out go the old and in come the new in Lawrence. Freshman guard Bryce Thompson is a five-star recruit out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who averaged nearly 25 points and six boards as a senior, earning him Gatorade Oklahoma Player of the Year honors. 

He should start immediately next to defensive-minded senior Marcus Garrett in the backcourt. Junior Ochai Agbaji will fill the wing position, being the highest-scoring returning player at 10 points per game a year ago.

A big question mark for both squads throughout the season will be the development of the big men. Kansas junior center David McCormack will be placed into a similar situation as Gonzaga’s Timme and Watson by replacing respected commodities down low. 

They will have to prove their worth to their teammates and coaches and perform down the stretch if they want to make a difference in big moments. A solid performance against a formidable opponent should greatly increase their résumé.

Both teams are hopeful to play Thanksgiving afternoon. So far, over 20 games scheduled for the opening week of play have either been postponed or canceled due to COVID-19. Self reported Monday afternoon at his presser that his program is good to go, and Few sent him a “so far so good” text message. Self also said that his entire roster will be available, and Few’s the same.

With a neutral site and limited attendance, the crowd shouldn’t be much of a factor for either squad. Instead, the game could come down to a battle of new faces. In addition to Thompson, the Jayhawks add Tyon Grant-Foster, a junior college transfer who averaged over eight points from the guard position last season. Gonzaga, meanwhile, gets freshman Jalen Suggs, a McDonald’s All-American guard who scored 24.2 points per game and tallied 6.5 assists his junior year.

Basketball fans will have two feasts to delve into Thursday, as the Bulldogs and the Jayhawks should take a close game to the bitter end. Both squads have what it takes to win it all this season, but in this matchup, Gonzaga takes a slight edge in firepower and talent, which should be enough to give them the edge.

Prediction: Gonzaga 72, Kansas 65

 

Jack McCune is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jxm1237@psu.edu.