Wednesday, September 23, 2009

2009-2010 Team Preview: Gonzaga Bulldogs

2008-2009 Record: 28-6, 14-0 WCC (1st)

Key Losses: Jeremy Pargo (10.2 ppg, 4.9 apg), Josh Heytvelt (14.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Austin Daye (12.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Micah Downs (9.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg)

Key Returners: Matt Bouldin (13.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.4 apg), Steven Gray (9.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg), Demetri Goodson (3.8 ppg, 1.6 apg)

Newcomers: Bol Kong, Mangisto Arop, Sam Dower, Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk, David Stockton, GJ Villarino, Andy Poling (RS), Mike Hart (RS), Grant Gibbs (RS)

Matt Bouldin will be the man for the Zags this year.
(photo credit: Seattle Times)

The 2008-2009 version of the Gonzaga Bulldogs was probably the most talented that Mark Few has had during his tenure in Spokane. With the majority of that talent - Josh Heytvelt, Austin Daye, Micah Downs, and Jeremy Pargo - gone, Few is left with a line-up full of inexperience and unknowns. That is not necessarily a bad thing, however. The Zags built their program on the shoulders of a bunch of guys that no one had ever heard of - Richie Frahm, Matt Santangelo, Dan Dickau, Blake Stepp.

The next in that line is Matt Bouldin, who will be the senior leader for this group and anchor what could turn into the best back court out west. Bouldin is one of the most underrated guards in the country. There is nothing he does not do well - he scores, he can pass, he can shoot, he can defend, he doesn't turn the ball over. Expect his numbers to make a big jump this year as his work load offensively will increase.

Joining Bouldin in the back court will be point guard Demetri Goodson and sharp shooter Steven Gray. Gray is your prototypical scorer - his game is based on an excellent jump shot and when he is on, he can go for 25. But if he's off, he may go scoreless. For example, against UConn and Tennessee, Gray went for 23 and 19, respectively, but scored just one point in two games against San Diego. With a more consistent role on the team this season, expect Gray to post some more consistent numbers, especially if he continues to improve on his ability to get to the rim.

Goodson, who you may remember as Gonzaga's first round hero, is a tough and quick little point guard. He played behind Pargo as a freshman, but in his limited minutes he showed some flashes. He could be the x-factor for the Zags if he can develop into a play maker offensively, taking some of the pressure off of Bouldin. Personally, I think Goodson is going to have a breakout season, especially if he develops his perimeter jumper to the point where you have to respect it. There aren't many defenders that will be able to stay in front if they have to crowd him at the thre point line.

Beyond those three, the rest of Gonzaga's back court (and their roster in general) will be largely unproven and inexperienced. On the perimeter, the Zags will have three newcomers seeing time - freshman Mangisto Arop, redshirt freshman Grant Gibbs, and sophomore Bol Kong. Arop is a slasher with an excellent mid-range game that was the most highly touted of the three recruits (top 100 by Rivals). Gibbs seems to be a bit of a Bouldin clone - a big, strong guard converted to the two after playing the point in high school. Kong is the biggest question mark of the group. An athletic, 6'7" wing, he posted impressive numbers against sub par competition in his few years in Canada, but he also had big games in scrimmages against DI teams. For Zags fans, I see him being another Erroll Knight.

The Zags front line is loaded with question marks. How good are freshman Elias Harris and Sam Dower? Will Robert Sacre develop into a dominant post player? How good is redshirt freshman Andy Poling going to be after putting on some 30 pounds of muscle? There is definitely some potential along this front line, but three of these kids have never set foot on a college court, and the only one who was (Robert Sacre) played five games last season due to injury and has a career average of 2.8 ppg in 34 games. The Zags play a very difficult non-conference schedule (Michigan State, the Maui Invitational, Washington State, Wake Forest, Duke, Oklahoma, Illinois, Memphis), which means that these unexperienced bigs are going to be thrown into the fire right away.

Outlook: This Zags team is going to go as far as Bouldin, Gray, and Goodson carry them. They are probably still the favorite in the WCC (although Portland looks pretty good on paper), but with a brutal early schedule and such an inexperienced team, the Zags may take a while to find their rhythm. As far as the NCAA Tournament in concerned, I think Few's squad will probably need to win the conference to make it. But the Gonzaga teams that everyone fell in love with in the late 90's and early 00's were just like this - a couple good guards surrounded by a bunch of "what's-his-names that made a run through their league and deep into the tourney.

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