Gonzaga coach Mark Few is in his 10th year as head coach and is one of the most successful coaches in the country during that time period. He's appeared in the NCAA tournament in all 10 seasons, which have included four Sweet 16 appearances.
This year's Gonzaga team is vying for its 12th straight West Coast Conference title, and the media tabbed it as the preseason favorite to win the conference crown yet again in 2011-12. If the Bulldogs can keep up their winning ways this season, it'll be due to one of the West coast's most experience and talented front courts and a group of guards that are sharp shooters on the perimeter.
The Zag's best player is 7-foot, 260-pound center Robert Sacre. He earned First Team All-WCC honors as a junior last season, and he's a First Team All-WCC Preseason selection heading into his final year with the Bulldogs.
Sacre is living up to the hype thus far this season, as he's the team's leading scorer with 15.5 points per game on 50 percent shooting. In 29.1 minutes per outing, which is good for third on Gonzaga, Sacre is also third in rebounding with 7.5 boards per game. He promises to be a handful on the interior for the UA big men, who may have a tough time with his skill level, athleticism, and intensity.
In the game against Florida last week, the Gators made a point of getting the ball to Patric Young on the interior, and he responded with a career-high 25 points and 10 rebounds against the Wildcats. Look for Gonzaga to try to replicate that game plan and look to get the ball to Sacre on as many possessions as it can.
Arizona will not be able to focus solely on Sacre in the interior, as Gonzaga forward Elias Harris has the versatility to beat the Wildcats from the perimeter or move down low to the post. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound junior has had a distinguished career thus far in Spokane, as he was named First Team All-WCC and WCC Newcomer of the Year as a freshman and Honorable Mention All-WCC as a sophomore.
He'll begin his junior season as a First Team All-WCC Preseason Selection, and through eight games he's third for the Bulldogs in scoring with 12 points per game on 44.6 percent shooting and is the team's leading rebounder with 8.4 boards in 30.5 minutes per contest.
Even though he's shooting just 35.3 from three-point range, Harris is much more of a threat from beyond the arc than his numbers indicate. Heading into this season, Harris was a 40.2 career shooter from the three-point line and will pull the trigger whenever he's given an open look. His matchup against Solomon Hill pits two players with nearly identical games, and will be a great matchup between two very versatile players.
Mike Hart, a 6-foot-6, 206-pound junior, will start at the guard/forward spot, but he only sees about 17.8 minutes of action. In that time, he averages 2.9 points, but is the team's third-leading rebounder with 4.8 rebounds per contest. He doesn't contribute much offensively, but he's the type of glue player good teams need to keep things operating smoothly.
Few starts a pair of freshmen in the backcourt, and he'll be hoping 6-foot-1, 180-pound freshman Kevin Pangos will have as much success against Arizona as he did against fellow Pac-12 foe Washington State, when the former three-star guard scored 33 points and connected on nine of 13 three-point attempts.
Through eight games, Pangos is the team's second leading scorer at 13.4 points per outing, but aside from his big game against the Cougars, he's averaging just 10.6 points per game. He's been deadly accurate from behind the arc, hitting 42.2 percent of his three-point tries and also hands out a team-leading 3.1 assists per contest.
Pangos was not as highly rated as his freshman backcourt teammate Gary Bell, who came to Gonzaga as Scout's 17th ranked shooting guard and 70th best player overall in the 2011, but he has been slightly better up to this point in his career. However, the case can be made that Bell is the more consistent player through eight games.
Bell, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound shooting guard, has been lights out in his shooting this season, hitting 47.8 percent of his shots from the field and 46.4 percent from three-point range on his way to 8.8 points in 25.1 minutes per game.
Off the bench, Few has an experienced player in 6-foot-4, 178-pound guard Marquis Carter. He's had a bit of a problem with putting the ball in the basket this season, scoring just 6.8 points per game on 35 percent from the field and a bleak 9.1 percent from three-point range in 21.1 minutes off the bench.
Carter is a high-energy, physical defender as a reserve and is the team's leader with 1.8 steals per game. He also is third on the team with 2.1 assists per contest. He may not do much scoring, but Carter will certainly have an impact for Gonzaga off the bench against UA.
David Stockton is the son of former Gonzaga and Utah Jazz great John Stockton, and while he doesn't quite have his father's abilities, he has been a solid point guard thus far in his collegiate career. The 5-foot-11, 152-pound is averaging 7.6 points in 21.5 minutes off the bench, and he's also amongst the team leaders with 2.6 assists per outing.
While he's primarily known as a pass-first point guard, Stockton has stepped up his game offensively of late. Including a career high 19 points versus Michigan State, he's averaged 11 points in his past five games. If Gonzaga can keep Stockton on a roll offensively, it gives it an entirely new dimension to its offense and makes it that much tougher to be defeated.
Finally, 6-foot-9, 248-pound sophomore Sam Dower, a 2010-11 All-WCC Freshman Team selection, will provide the relief for Gonzaga's front court players. He'll only see about 16.4 minutes of action, and in that time he's averaging 5.8 points on 48.8 percent shooting and 3.1 rebounds.
It will be very critical for Hill and Jesse Perry to go right at Sacre from the get-go and try to force him into picking up cheap fouls. Arizona simply has not shown the ability to play defense against a big man of Sacre's caliber, and the only way to stop him may be to force him to the bench early.
Arizona enjoys a size advantage at each guard spot, and whichever combination is on the floor will need to be physical with the Gonzaga guards and keep a hand in their face.
A key to the game will be how well the Wildcats can defend the three-point line, as the Zags are shooting 39.4 percent from behind the arc and attempt about 17 three-pointers per game. If UA can bring the Bulldogs inside the arc, it will take Few's team out of its comfort zone and will give itself the best chance to win.
Through eight games, Arizona lacks a real ‘signature' win. A victory against Gonzaga will change that, and give Sean Miller's team a resume headlining win and will continue to build momentum as his team prepares for Pac-12 play.