1. Tillie, Collins add frontcourt depth
Freshman bigs Killian Tillie and Zach Collins were never expected to step in right away and replace Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer, but the polished post players have come in and immediately added to GU’s frontcourt depth, something the Bulldogs lacked last season.
With Tillie and Collins, Zags head coach Mark Few possesses two players who can stretch the floor and crash the boards. And with Przemek Karnowksi’s back injury — which caused him to miss most of the 2015-2016 season, and Johnathan Willliams’ high volume of fouls — he has eight in two games — having two versatile frontcourt players on the bench who are well equipped to spell Karnowski at the 5 and Williams at the 4 is a useful took for Few.
Few said he was impressed with the way Collins bounced back from a lackluster game against Utah Valley, where he had nine points, four rebounds and three turnovers.
"He didn't play well, but he didn't dwell on it or feel sorry for himself," Few said. "He came back and was aggressive and confident and I think that's a great sign for us and him."
Collins finished with 15 points and eight rebounds.
Along with Tillie, who finished with eight points and 10 rebounds, Few said he's challenged both of the freshman bigs bring energy off the bench, something they did exceptionally against SDSU.
"At times we have a bit of a stoic group and we've been on both of those guys to bring it," Few said. "Zach Collins we kind of have to bring it out. Killian just plays like that. When he plays basketball he just goes for it."
Tillie had eight points and 10 rebounds in the Zags’ 69-48 win over the Aztecs.
2. Zone defense
It’s something Mark Few rarely dialed up last season, but Gonzaga’s zone defense was a significant reason why the Bulldogs built up their first-half lead.
The Zags went to a 2-3 zone midway through the first half and that decision paid dividends. GU forced eight turnovers — which led into 14 points — and had seven steals in the first half.
What’s more, the Zags slowed the tempo and dared the Aztecs to run a half-court offense, something it struggled with mightily with SDSU shooting a lackluster 19-of-56 from the field.
Jordan Mathews said the Zags planned to break it out for long stretches against the Aztecs to catch them off guard.
"We knew that zone was going to tough for 'em. Because it's tough on you in practice. We know the spots and it's still tough to score," Mathews said. "We knew if we threw that look at them it would confuse them a little bit."
Few said the decision was contingent on the matchup, but it's a nice scheme to have in his back pocket.
"We put that in about two weeks ago and the way the guys have been playing it in practice is way more active than teams in years past," Few said, "but I think a lot of it is going to depend on matchups."
3. Mathews’ shooting prowess major piece to the puzzle.
The Zags lost their most capable 3-point shooter in Kyle Wiltjer to graduation. And while it appeared for awhile his absence would be a pitfall for the 2016-17 Zags, graduate transfer Mathews came to the rescue.
The former California Golden Bear put on a show in catch-and-shoot situations, making 5 of 7 from behind the arc. His night also included an impressive stretch where he sank three 3-pointers in a 1:34 stretch.
While he admits he's been reluctant at times on his new squad, his teammates have urged him to shoot whenever he has an opportunity. And those opportunities have come in bunches, with Mathews making nine 3-pointers in two games.
"I passed up on one early and Nigel was like 'nah, shoot it. We don't need to run offense if you can shoot it.' " Mathews said.
4. Perkins’ return nothing to boast about
In his first game back after being suspended after a DUI-related charge the morning after the team’s Kraziness in the Kennel scrimmage, GU guard Josh Perkins looked like he still needed to kick some of the rust off. He went 1-6 from the field with three points, two assists and two turnovers.
The poor night is no cause for concern from his teammates.
"He's just getting his feet wet again, " Mathews said. "He'll be back on Friday I'm not worried about it."
With only one game under his belt, the redshirt sophomore guard will surely get a pass and continue to see significant playing time, especially after the role he had on last year’s Sweet 16 squad. But Silas Melson has been playing well, making taking him out of the starting lineup a tough move.
5. Not to be taken lightly…
San Diego State was riddled with injuries, with Malik Pope (7.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game last season), Max Hoetzel (an Indiana transfer) and Ben Perez all sidelined. Pope especially was a key loss for the Aztecs, as his athleticism, length and shooting were all sorely missed against the Bulldogs on Monday.
Despite blowing out the Aztecs, Few said he still believes the Aztecs are set up for success this season.
"I think San Diego State is going to end up having a great year," Few said. "I think they've been injured ... I think when they end up getting all their pieces back they're going to have a special year. That defense is elite and is really, really hard to score on and I think eventually the offense is going to get going.
"I think they're destined to be a 25-win team and double-digit seed. I think it will serve us well in the end."
Josh Horton is the digital media editor. Find him on Twitter @JoshHorton22.