Thursday, October 23, 2008

No. 6 Gonzaga: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Preview: 25-8, 13-1 WCC (1st)

Key Losses: David Pendergraph (8.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg)

Key Returnees: Matt Bouldin (12.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Jeremy Pargo (12.1 ppg, 6.1 apg), Austin Daye (10.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg), Josh Heytvelt (10.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg)

Newcomers: Andy Poling, Grant Gibbs, Demetri Goodson

Since Gonzaga exploded onto the national scene with their Elite 8 run in 1999 (and back-to-back Sweet 16 trips in 2000 and 2001), they have been one of only nine schools to play in every NCAA tournament. They have won at least 23 games in every season, and are an astounding 107-4 at home during that span and are 107-12 in conference play. I think it is safe to say that the 'Zags are one of the top college basketball programs in the country right now, but this year's team is probably the most talented Gonzaga team to date.

The thing that makes the 'Zags so dangerous is that they have four guys that could legitimately be considered go-to scorers - guards Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin and forwards Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt. Pargo, a senior and Gonzaga's best athlete, will be the starting point guard. He is a big, strong guy (220 lb) but also very quick, which allows him to get into the lane against just about anyone. He can finish at the rim as well as find the open man if he draws help side defenders (6.1 apg), but he needs to improve his jump shot (26% from deep) and his decision making (3.4 t/o's). Bouldin, a 6'5" junior, will play off the ball for the 'Zags. He is a pretty solid all-around player that does a lot of things well, but is probably at his best when he is slashing to the basket, with or without the ball. He is a sneaky athlete with great body control and can finish with either hand. His jump shot, however, is good enough (36% from 3) that you have to respect it. Micah Downs, a 6'8" senior, and Steven Gray, a 6'4" sophomore, are the 'Zags two best perimeter shooters and will battle it out for minutes on the wing. Gray, who took over the starting spot for the last 19 games last year after recovering from a wrist injury, is probably the better player. Freshmen Demetri Goodson (6'0", 175 lb) and Grant Gibbs (6'5", 190 lb) were both highly touted recruits and should also see some playing time.

Heytvelt has not has the easiest go of it at Gonzaga, but he is very talented and as long as he can stay away from the magic mushrooms, he should have a pretty good year. He is an athletic, 6'11" power forward with a pretty advanced offensive game. He is most effective when he faces up because he is quick, has a decent handle, and has range out to the three point line, but he can also score with his back to the basket. Daye is the best NBA prospect on the 'Zags, but he still has a way to go to grow into is potential. He is a long, lanky, 6'10" forward with a mostly-perimeter oriented game. He has a very smooth and dangerous stroke, especially when he squares up and gets his feet set (he's far less effective off the dribble). He only played 18.5 mpg last year, and at times seemed like he was trying to hard and forcing questionable shots. But, based on the fact that he was always cutting hard and calling for the ball, it seems like Daye just isn't suited to be a role player because of his desire to score, which, when you are as talented as Daye, is a good thing. He also has a pretty good handle, and is effective when he is going to the rim. He is not much of a post defender or rebounder at this stage (only listed at 190 lb on the 'Zags website), but some of that should come with filling out his frame. Also in the 'Zags front court is 6'11" freshman Andy Poling, 7'0" sophomore Robert Sacre, and 7'4" junior Will Foster.

Outlook: Gonzaga's top six (the four mentioned plus Gray and Downs) are as good as anyone in the country in terms of talent. But what they are going to miss is the toughness inside of guys like Dave Pendergraft and Abdullahi Kuso. Neither Heytvelt or Daye really relish contact, and the other three front court players are all really thin and inexperienced (although Poling was rated as a top 20 center by some recruiting services and is listed at 230 lb, which means he could be able to provide that front court strength). Gonzaga, as usual, has scheduled a tough non-conference schedule, and will face as tough of a WCC (especially at the top) as there has been in the last few years. As I said, this is probably the most talented Gonzaga team to date, and big man or not, this is their best shot at reaching the Final Four.


Anonymous said...

Talent does not get you success in the Tournament. TEAM + talent is what you need to get to the final four. The Zags have the talent. Finding TEAM will be the Zags biggest challenge this year. They are going to have to find the chemistry that never materialized last year if they want to go farther in the tournament.

Rob Dauster said...

I agree completely. They are talented enough, however, that even without finding that "TEAM" they are going to win a heckuva lot of games.