“Gonzaga plays no good teams, they’re a fraud,” said uninformed fans everywhere, even after beating the prodigal team in the nation. Duke, who many suggested could out play the Cleveland Cavaliers.
As GU haters come out of the woodwork to discredit the Zags and its “flawed schedule,” head coach Mark Few must get his bunch prepared to play four projected NCAA tournament teams.
The schedule includes two top-15 ranked teams, Tennessee and North Carolina, a team receiving national votes, Creighton, and a projected top-finisher in the PAC-12, Washington, within the first 15 days of December.
“It’s going to be super fun,” said redshirt junior Brandon Clarke. “It should be four great challenges coming forward, so I am definitely looking forward to play verse them and beat them, hopefully.”
Away vs. the Creighton Bluejays
Saturday, Omaha, Nebraska
GU will start its arduous December on the road Saturday versus a fellow Jesuit school, the Creighton Bluejays.
“We are in for a really big challenge here on Saturday,” Few said. “We are definitely going to have our hands full. Creighton’s playing great and that is a very, very tough venue to play in … They’ll have our full attention, that’s for sure.”
Like the Zags, Creighton is coming off a tournament win after defeating No. 16 Clemson Tigers to clinch the Cayman Islands Classic.
The 5-1 Bluejays are not currently ranked in either major national poll, however they did receive a substantial amount of votes this past week.
The team is led on offense by sophomore Ty-Shon Alexander, a prolific scorer shooting nearly 48 percent from 3-point land and averaging 19.2 points per game.
Last season, GU toppled Creighton 91-74 inside the Kennel, but now the Zags must also handle the raucous crowd of Bluejays’ fans in Omaha, Nebraska.
Home vs. the Washington Huskies
After a one-game road trip, GU will return home to the friendly confines of McCarthey Athletic Center for a matchup with cross-state foe Washington on Wednesday.
The unranked Huskies are 5-2 on the season, including a 71-67 win against Texas A&M, a team GU beat on Nov. 15, 94-71.
Sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell paces the Huskies offensive attack scoring almost 20 points a game and senior forward Noah Dickerson isn’t far behind, as he averages 18.
In its most recent meeting with UW, GU throttled the Huskies in Seattle by 27.
“Home” vs. the No. 6 Tennessee Volunteers, Dec. 9, Phoenix
After the Huskies, the Zags travel to Phoenix for a “home” game against the No. 6 Tennessee Volunteers in the Air Force Reserve Jerry Collangelo Classic on Dec. 9.
On the young season, the 4-1 Volunteers only loss came to the Kansas Jayhawks, the nation’s second-best team.
Tennessee has five players averaging double digits in scoring and as a team they are holding opponents to just 65.4 points per game.
While North Carolina and Washington bring the biggest name notoriety, Tennessee could prove to be GU’s toughest game of the stretch.
Away vs. the No. 11 North Carolina Tar Heels, Dec. 15, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
The Zags final test of early December will be the long-awaited rematch of the 2017 National Championship game.
On Dec. 15, GU will travel to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and one of the loudest atmospheres in college basketball, the Dean Smith Center, for a contest with the Tar Heels.
UNC has just two hold-overs that played in the National Championship in senior Luke Maye and junior Seventh Woods. The pair combined to play only 13 minutes in that game and neither scored a basket.
For the Zags, Josh Perkins, Killian Tillie and Jeremy Jones all saw action during the Natty and while Tillie won’t be available for the Dec. 15 game, fans should expect a large dosage of both Perkins and Jones.
Upperclassmen Maye, Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams, as well as highly touted freshman Coby White and Nassir Little have paced the Tar Heels to a 6-1 record and a No. 11 ranking.
The Tar Heels are averaging 96.6 points per game, fifth best in the country and two spots behind GU who is third in scoring with 97.7, so no matter what happens fans can expect a high scoring affair.
While these games are important and certainly will go a long way to determining GU’s ranking on the national stage, as well as seeding come March, fans must remember; these are still games in early December.
With junior Killian Tillie and redshirt senior Geno Crandall sidelined for all four of the games, GU will be far from its final form.
The performance of these Zags over the next two weeks, for better or worse, is still a work in progress and will change greatly come West Coast Conference play or the NCAA tournament.
So, relax, enjoy the high-level of competition and rejoice, because this season, no one can say that GU plays no one.
Ian Davis-Leonard is a sports editor. Follow him on Twitter: @ilowe714.