Alabama Basketball Opponent Preview: Gonzaga Bulldogs

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

The 4th ranked Alabama basketball team will take on the 15th ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs this afternoon in yet another marquee matchup. Alabama has already played four ranked opponents in the past month, beating three of them to catapult into the top five.

Gonzaga has been a power in the sport for well over a decade under Mark Few. The Bulldogs have taken it up a notch in recent years, growing into a perennial top-10 team and national title contender.

Few’s squad plays a national schedule in the non-conference to accommodate for the relative lack of opportunities for “good wins” in the WCC. Like Nate Oats’ Alabama team, the Zags have already been through the gauntlet this season.

Gonzaga enters this game with an 8-3 record, with all three losses coming against ranked opponents. More surprisingly, two of the Bulldogs’ losses were fairly lopsided. They lost by 19 to now 7th-ranked Texas and lost by 18 to top-ranked Purdue. Sandwiched in between the two bad losses was a 16-point win over a good Kentucky team, in what was at the time a top-5 matchup.

The Zags eventually lost their third game, a 64-63 decision against Baylor in a rematch of the 2021 national championship game. Other quality wins for the Bulldogs include narrow victories over Xavier and Michigan State, the only common opponent between Gonzaga and Alabama.

Forward Drew Timme has been the face of the Gonzaga program, and maybe college basketball, for the past three seasons. The senior is currently averaging 20.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. He will be a massive challenge for an Alabama frontcourt that is deep and athletic, but young and inexperienced.

Fellow senior Anton Watson and junior wing Julian Strawther join Timme up front for the Zags. At 6’7”, Strawther is a versatile three-point marksman that could’ve entered the NBA Draft last season. He returned to improve his stock, and is playing well. Strawther is scoring 13.2 points per game, shooting 40 percent from three, and leading the Zags with 8.3 rebounds per game.

Anton Watson is a 6’8″ combo forward and glue guy. Watson is a veteran player who does the dirty work for the Zags.

The backcourt is where Alabama basketball could have an edge. The Gonzaga guards are good, but they are still in the process of figuring out how they fit together. Conversely, the Alabama guards have meshed fairly quickly. Jahvon Quinerly is still finding himself, but Ohio transfer Mark Sears and freshman Jaden Bradley have picked up the slack. Prior to his injury, Nimari Burnett was also playing well.

Gonzaga is led by senior Rasir Bolton, a former Iowa State transfer, and sophomore Nolan Hickman. Bolton has played five seasons of college basketball at three different schools, and has averaged double-figures in all five seasons. He is in his second year with the Zags and is averaging 10.7 points and 2.9 assists. Hickman got spot minutes as a freshman last season, and is coming into his own as a sophomore. He has started every game, averaging 8.2 points and a team-high 4.0 assists.

The Bulldogs’ backcourt is supplemented by Malachi Smith, a big-bodied guard with a scorer’s mentality. Smith transferred from Chattanooga, where he averaged 20 PPG and was named SOCON Player of the Year last season. He is only averaging 8.0 points per game for Gonzaga in a sixth man role, but he brings physicality and athleticism to the backcourt.

Alabama beat the Zags last year in Seattle, and theoretically should have a slight edge this year as the two teams meet in Birmingham. Once again, the Alabama basketball team will be tested against a quality opponent.

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This will be another intense contest, and should have the feel of a late-March Sweet 16 game. A win would add one more ranked conquest to Bama’s impressive resume.