3. Dominate the frontcourt battle
On paper, Gonzaga has the edge over Santa Clara inside. Graham Ike scored 39 points in 43 minutes last week and looks to be the favorite for WCC Player of the Year because the conference has few answers for him. Anton Watson is just as effective, while both Ben Gregg and Braden Huff were scoring 20+ points combined each game last week against inferior competition.
That being said, Santa Clara does have both size and depth to at least make the Bulldogs work for it. The Broncos have their own French big man in Christoph Tilly, who is averaging 8.6 and 4.4 rpg. Virginia transfer Francisco Caffaro comes off the bench for 18 mpg and like Tilly, is a 7’0 center with real size.
The x-factor for the Broncos will be Johnny O’Neil. The 6’9 forward is a transfer from American and was an all-conference defender. This season, he’s averaging 8.7 ppg and 4.9 rpg on just 39% shooting and 31% from three-point range on nearly five attempts. O’Neil has had some big outings, including a 17-point and 8-rebound game at Stanford.
If O’Neil can give Santa Clara another 10+ point outing, that’s going to be big. That’s why Watson, who’ll be matched up with him, will be important. If he shuts O’Neil down and Ike and the bench do its job, Gonzaga should be in a good position to get the win.