As was noted earlier this week, K-State is 7-1 so far this year but still in search of a marquee, with an RPI ranking of 121 and a strength of schedule of 294, in spite of last month’s meeting with #3 Michigan (who knows how low their SOS would plummet without that game). The team has a chance to rectify this in a hurry Saturday afternoon when it travels to Seattle to take on the #14 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs.
The perennial West Coast Conference powerhouse, Gonzaga is coming off its first defeat of the season, an 85-74 loss to #13 Illinois that dropped the Bulldogs to 9-1. The Zags already own two blowout wins against Big 12 foes, having dropped West Virginia 84-50 and Oklahoma 72-47. Their other wins against AQ competition include a 57-49 victory over Clemson and 71-69 triumph over Washington State. The Zags loaded up on five Big 12 opponents this year, with games left against Baylor and #24 Oklahoma State.
The Zags feature three players listed at 6’9″ or taller, and will look to push the Wildcats around in the paint. Forwards Nino Williams and Thomas Gipson, both standing at 6’11”, will be called on to shut down Gonzaga’s interior players. If either is ineffective, Jordan Henriquez will be called on to protect the rim. In fact, all three should see significant playing time. Not only do the Bulldogs trumpet multiple dominant big men, but Bruce Weber continues to substitute players in and out as he continues searching for a rotation he is comfortable with.
Although he is coming off the bench, Henriquez will be vital to his team’s success. The senior forward was expected to enjoy a monster year, especially after he averaging 17 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in the NCAA tournament last year. However, Henriquez has looked more like his early season self of 2011, posting an average of 5.1 points, 5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks so far this year. With a formidable frontline anchored by the 7-footer Kelly Olynyk, the scraggly Henriquez need to have a breakout game against Gonzaga.
The West Coast game, scheduled for an 8 o’clock (Central) tip-off, will be viewable on ESPN2. The neutral site game will be held in Key Arena, the former home of the Seattle Supersonics before the team relocated to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder.