The non-conference schedule for Mark Few and the Gonzaga Bulldogs over the past five years has dramatically improved, with high profile games against North Carolina, Baylor, Duke, UCLA, Arizona, Michigan State, Texas, Alabama and others all coming outside of their traditionally strong Feast Week tournament appearances.
However, Few and his staff took it to an entirely different level when putting together the schedule for the non-conference in the 2022-23 season. Fans knew the Zags would get a look at Texas on the road, Alabama in Birmingham, and UW at The Kennel a long time ago, as they were all part of multi-year commitments the program made recently.
Fans also knew the field for the PK85 would be ridiculously loaded, and while a first round date with Portland State isn’t exactly what everyone had in mind, two other games against strong opponents (likely some combination of Purdue, Xavier, Florida, and Duke) will help boost a schedule that, frankly, doesn’t really need any boosting.
That’s because Gonzaga went out and added a neutral site game against Michigan State – on an aircraft carrier in San Diego – as well as a neutral game against Baylor in South Dakota and the big fish, a matchup with John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats at the Spokane Arena.
Adding so many high profile opponents is critical for a team like Gonzaga, who does face less competition in the WCC despite the league’s improvements over the years. More importantly, adding multiple games against elite competition in a row is critical, as it does more to prepare the Zags for the grind that is the NCAA Tournament.
As it is currently scheduled, Gonzaga will play Michigan State in San Diego, and then five days later they will play Texas in Austin. Four days after that they host Kentucky at the arena, with three straight games in the PK85 starting just four days later, and the Baylor matchup in South Dakota less than a week after that.
Heck, even their traditionally easy non-conference games have taken a step up this year, with Gonzaga adding Kent State, Montana, and North Florida to the calendar: upgrades over previous opponents like Northern Arizona and Texas Southern.
While it’s impossible to fully mimic the schedule – and intensity – of tournament basketball, playing the best possible teams at neutral sites in rapid succession is about as close as one can get. Gonzaga returns three starters from last year’s squad – Drew Timme, Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton – while adding veteran talent in Efton Reid and Malachi Smith.
This team is experienced, deep, and has enough talent to win it all this year. Few no doubt knows this, and wanted to give them a schedule that pushes them early in the season.
Will they win all these games? Probably not, frankly, but hard-luck losses early in the season may not be the worst thing for this team as they look to give Few and the Bulldogs the first national championship in program history.
Andy hosts the Locked on Zags and Locked on College Basketball podcasts, and serves Locked On in a marketing/digital content creator role as well. He lives just outside Portland with his wife Jenna and dog, Tillie.