Gonzaga vs. Tennessee: Bulldogs face Vols in exhibition game – Sports Illustrated

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Much has been made of the Gonzaga men's basketball team's regular-season schedule, which has the second-ranked Bulldogs playing at least four top-25 teams in the AP preseason poll.
However, this year’s squad doesn’t have to wait until the end of the preseason to face a nationally-ranked opponent as Gonzaga meets No. 11 Tennessee for an exhibition game on Friday in Frisco, Texas. It will be a charity game to raise money for the McLendon Foundation.
It’s not common for Gonzaga head coach Mark Few to schedule a public scrimmage against a team of the Volunteers’ caliber, but the exception is no surprise since he and Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes are close friends.
“That was just kind of us putting it together,” Few said. “First putting it together because we thought it would be great just to get your guys excited to do it. To play against that elite-level athlete, defensive pressure and high-level guys … and then you’re ready to go once our regular season starts, which we all know is going to be ridiculously hard.”
For senior forward Anton Watson, it’s an opportunity to match up with someone who isn’t his teammate.
“This is my fourth year doing this,” Watson said. “October is a long month of just scrimmages and practices. Everyone’s just excited to play someone else. I think we’re sick of beating each other up in practice.”
It will prove a worthy test for the Zags, considering Tennessee is one of the premier programs in the SEC despite its second-round exit at the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
Although Memphis Grizzlies' guard Kennedy Chandler left Knoxville for the NBA after his freshman year, the Volunteers still brought back most of their starting backcourt.
Perhaps the most notable returner is senior guard Santiago Vescovi, who made a program-record 102 3-pointers on 253 attempts last season. He served a scoring-focused, mostly off-ball role, with Chandler as the primary playmaker.
Vescovi could have a similar responsibility this year if sophomore guard Zakai Zeigler assumes Chandler’s old distributing duties. Zeigler started just one game in 2022-23, but averaged the fourth-most minutes on the team at 22.1 per game.
Rounding out the starting backcourt trio will likely be senior Josiah-Jordan James. At 6-foot-6, 224 pounds, James is a versatile defender who led the Volunteers with six rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game last season.
Tennessee’s depth around the perimeter is matched by the Zags, who may even start a lineup of four guards as junior Julian Strawther will be used as a skilled small-ball power forward, according to CBS Sports College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein.
Gonzaga senior Rasir Bolton, redshirt junior Malachi Smith, along with sophomores Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman are all capable of filling in the team’s other starting guard spots.
While the game is primed to be a battle in the backcourt, the Volunteers don’t appear to have a big man that matches the low-post presence of Gonzaga forward Drew Timme. The senior was recently named the CBS Sports Preseason Player of the Year and a unanimous AP Preseason First Team All-American.
Among the most noteworthy frontcourt players for Tennessee is freshman Julian Phillips, the No. 13 ranked player in ESPN’s top 100 high school recruits in the Class of 2022. A 6-foot-8 forward, Phillips could create mismatches with his unique frame and ability to score at all three levels.
The newcomer could potentially play big minutes for the Volunteers, but he’ll likely be competing for time against senior forwards Uros Plavsic and Olivier Nkamhoua, who made a combined 32 starts last season.
With neither team’s starting lineup made official, the preseason opener could provide some answers to the roster questions both programs face ahead of their season openers on Nov. 7.
Tipoff for Friday’s contest is 6 p.m. PST. You can watch the game on pay-per-view for $9.99.

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