Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No. 13 Gonzaga Bulldogs

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Last Season: 27-7, 12-2 (1st WCC), lost to Syracuse in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament

Head Coach: Mark Few

Key Losses: Matt Bouldin, Bol Kong

Newcomers: Marquise Carter, Keegan Hyland, Mathis Keitha, Mathis Monninghoff,

Projected Lineup:

  • G: Demetri Goodson, Jr.
  • G: Steven Gray, Sr.
  • F: Manny Arop, So.
  • F: Elias Harris, So.
  • C: Robert Sacre, Jr.
  • Bench: Kelly Olynyk, So.; Sam Dower, Fr.; Marquise Carter, Jr.

Outlook: Gonzaga is not only one of the best programs outside of the BCS conferences, they are one of the best basketball programs in the country. Period. How many programs could handle what the Zags have lost the past two seasons -- Josh Heytvelt, Jeremy Pargo, Austin Daye, Micah Downs, Matt Bouldin -- and still put a team on the floor that is good enough to be considered top 15 nationally? It may be obvious to Gonzaga fans, but its a point that shouldn't be lost on a national scale.

The biggest reason that Gonzaga is expected to be this good is 6'8" sophomore forward Elias Harris. Harris is, for lack of a better term, a beast. He's strong and athletic enough to play the four while also being mobile and skilled enough to play the three. He can score on the block, he can finish above the rim, he can knock down a three, and he can put the ball on the floor and get by his defender. The player I like to compare him to is Josh Howard when Howard was at Wake Forest. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if he turned into an 18 and 9 guy this season before becoming a lottery pick next June. The one question I have about Harris is whether he can develop into a go-to scorer, a guy that can create his own shot. He got a lot of points off of offensive rebounds and easy buckets created by his teammates last year.

Joining Harris inside will be Robert Sacre. Sacre is a bit of a conundrum, and has to be frustrating for Gonzaga fans to watch. He's a legitimate seven footer with a soft touch inside and some nice post moves, but he never really asserted himself last season. He's a good shot blocker, but he needs to get tougher in the paint -- as both a post scorer and a rebounder. Kelly Olynyk will likely be the first big off the bench. Olynyk is a lanky, 6'11" power forward that showed some promise as a freshman last season. He played well with the Canadian national team over the summer, and I am expecting a good year out of him. Sam Dower will likely round out the front court rotation. A redshirt freshman, Dower is an athletic big man with impressive tools that spent his redshirt season learning how to use them. At worst, he should be able to provide some defense and rebounding this year.

Gonzaga's front court will be their strength this season, which is atypical for a program usually known for their back court stars. But that doesn't mean the perimeter is devoid of talent. Steven Gray is probably the best of the group. One of the most underappreciated players out west the last few seasons, Gray is an athletic two-guard that is at his best when he is attacking the basket. He's a capable shooter, but he needs to push his percentage (33% last season) closer to what it was when he was a freshman (46%). Demetri Goodson may end up being the x-factor for this team. He's a talented kid with great tools to be a point guard -- he's super-quick and can beat his man off the dribble -- but he is still learning how to use those tools to be a leader on the floor. He'll need to be more of a creator this season in Bouldin's absence.

Manny Arop seems like the guy that will slide into that third perimeter spot in the starting lineup. An excellent athlete, Arop is known for his ability to defend and will likely draw the assignment of guarding an opponents' best perimeter scorer. He hit 47% of his threes last year, and while he probably isn't that good of a shooter (he only took 17), if he can consistently knock down open looks, it will give the Zags a second shooter on the perimeter. JuCo transfer Marquise Carter seems like he will be the first back court option off the bench. Carter was a big time recruit and will remind some people of Bouldin. He's a bigger point guard and can create and score the ball, and should be able to play on or off the ball offensively. Other guys -- Keegan Hyland, Mathis Monninghoff, Mathis Keita -- may see some minutes on the perimeter as well.

This looks to be a different Zags team than we are used to. They should be much better defensively, as they have a number of athletes that can pressure the ball on the perimeter and the size to block some shots inside. Offensively, their strength will be on the interior instead of on the perimeter, which is the norm for this program.

The way I see it, there are two issues that could haunt this team. The first is perimeter shooting. Gray is supposed to be a sharpshooter, but he has hit under 34% of his threes the past two seasons combined. Goodson is no a good perimeter shooter, while Arop is unproven. If this team can't hit threes, will there be enough space inside for the bigs to operate? I also worry about the Zags finding a star. Can Elias Harris be that guy? Can he carry the team when things get bogged down offensively? Who does Mark Few give the ball to when his team needs a basket?

If those two questions are answered, Gonzaga has the make-up of a team that make a Final Four.

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