Ahhh...it feels good to be back on a computer! I'd like to apologize to our readers for the past week's activity (or lack there of). I have literally just gotten home from Dallas after a week of traveling around the vast state of Texas and EDZ just kicked off his new job so it made for the perfect storm for all of you! This is the first time since last Tuesday that I've sat in front of a computer and now that I'm back, I might as well blog about something. The good news is that it was a pretty quiet week as far as Gonzaga basketball is concerned. That will all change quickly here as practice begins on Friday...that's right folks, college basketball is right around the corner. With that being said, let's get right to it...
For the past few years, many players have come through the Gonzaga basketball program and have made tremendous impacts. This is particularly true when you think about last season's graduating class. Jeremy Pargo, Micah Downs, and Josh Heytvelt all have their own individual legacy that will live on in Spokane, Washington. While those players were all excellent in their own way, there is one player that now has the opportunity to benefit from their departure and build his own personal legacy and can perhaps have the word "great" attached to his name when it is all said and done. That player is senior guard Matt Bouldin. Bouldin, who has been an instrumental component of this Gonzaga program since his arrival in 2006, will have to deal with the pressure of being the go-to man this season and while he has been looked upon as a leader the past few years, he has never had to be THE guy.
While I think most Gonzaga fans would agree that Bouldin can fill that role, there is no doubt that he must avoid and grow out of some of the pitfalls that have plagued him for the past three years. With that being said, he's on the Wooden Player of the Year watch list for a reason and he is going to be a player that the whole nation has their eyes on this season.
Like we've been saying all summer, leadership is going to be huge this season. Not that it hasn't been important the past few seasons, but it is particularly important this year because their is a wealth of youth on this team and only two seniors. While both seniors have been at Gonzaga for all four years, it is pretty safe to say that a majority of the on-court leadership will have to come from Matt Bouldin. Will Foster has been a nice role guy for Gonzaga but has struggled to get on the court. Bouldin on the other hand, has played about 32 minutes per game the last two years and has always been reliable to eat up quality minutes. He has rarely been dinged up and typically plays with a high level of energy. It will be very interesting to watch the way Matt handles leading this team. The past three years, we have seen him take on a more laid back on-court demeanor but he has always been a calming force under pressure. I think that kind of attitude will really go a long way with this young team. There is no doubt that guys like Manny Arop, Bol Kong, Elias Harris, and the rest of the class have tons of talent but they can't understand the pressure that comes with playing in East Lansing against a very good Michigan State team. That is where Matt will come in and he'll be able to put this team on his back emotionally, the question is if he can do it with his play on the court.
There are a number of games that you know Matt is going to play well in. He has historically been fantastic during the West Coast Conference slate. He is obviously going to play well against the cupcakes on the schedule as well. The key for Matt, and it has been something we have stressed for a long time, is that he must be more consistent in the big games for the Bulldogs. As good as he has been the past three years, Matt has caused Gonzaga fans plenty of frustration during that time. The main reason for this frustration is because of his inconsistent play during those five or six important games on the nonconference schedule. This did improve a bit last season as Matt put Gonzaga on his back in both Tennessee games, and played well against Oklahoma St., Arizona, and Indiana but there were those few games where he completely disappeared. His play against Memphis has never been good. The last two seasons against Memphis, Matt has had identical stat lines: 2-9 from the floor with six points. Whether it is the freakishly athletic ability of Memphis or just their talent in the past, it has always been a tough match up. But last season he was also bad against Maryland, Connecticut, and Utah to the point where many Gonzaga fans thought Steven Gray and Micah Downs should be starting over Matt. This inconsistent play has always been a point of contention with fans of Matt and the program and it really raise a lot of question marks about what to expect from him now that the pressure is on.
His abilities as a basketball player really can't be questioned and he has been a favorite of many Gonzaga fans since he came to Spokane as a freshman. One of the best performances I have ever seen from a Gonzaga freshman was Matt's against a top-10 University of Washington team. He scored 21 points that night against the Huskies and ended the year playing about 28 minutes a game which is huge for a freshman in Mark Few's program. Now that we are nearly four years removed from that game, Matt's role in his final season as a Bulldog is to be a consistent force every game. He doesn't have to be Adam Morrison and score 30 points and shoot the ball 20 times but he does have to linger around the 15 point mark all season or else it might become a long season. The key for him to be consistent is for the offense to run though him early in the game. If he can hit a few backdoor screens for easy buckets and rattle in some mid-range jumpers, Matt can score 20-plus points. If he doesn't get out of the gate fast, especially in big games, he tends to struggle mightily. The good thing as far as this team is concerned is that the offense kind of has to run through him as a majority of last season's offense graduated in May. Mark Few has to find ways to get him going early and I think that he will realize that pretty quickly. Steven Gray and Demetri Goodson will provide him some help in the backcourt but make no mistake, Matt's going to take this team as far as his play can.