It's hard to believe that for as long as we've been waiting for the season to get here, it now feels like the first six games have passed in the blink of an eye. As you know, the Zags have begun the year with a bang. A 5-1 record is something Gonzaga fans have taken for granted over the years as Mark Few has always prepared his teams to begin the season well. When you think about everything this team lost from a year ago, it's hard to find another season where Coach Few did a better job coaching up a team. I immediately think of the 2006-07 season when the Zags lost Adam Morrison and J.P. Batista but I'd still give the nod to our current group of Bulldogs.
Depending on what kind of team we have, each year seems to take on a different attitude. Last year, the goals were different because we were picked by many to be a final four team, had a roster with four NBA hopefuls, and played in a conference where it was basically a two-horse race with everyone else lust meddling around. As we look at this year and after our fast start, I think that this team has got to feel like they're sitting on top of the world. I belive that it is very important for Mark Few to bring them back to reality and turn the pages on their fast start and get them ready for the next phase of their season which is the real meat of the schedule. If I had to title this chapter of the season it would have to be "Sustain". If we learned anything from last year, it is to take a college basketball season in stride. Gonzaga got off to a ridiculously quick start and won the Old Spice Classic but got taken to the woodshed in mid-to-late December by the likes of Arizona, Connecticut, Portland State, and Utah. With each of these losses happening in their own special and gut-wrenching ways, I think it is important as fans to realize that these issues can arise with even the most talented of teams.
With that being said, it's important to take a look back on the start of the season and understand just how difficult the rest of the 2009-10 season will be.Mark Few makes a living off of fast starts
Just looking at the past five seasons in Mark Few's tenure and it is hard not to be impressed with the way his teams start the season. In that span, Mark Few has only lost games to Washington, Connecticut, Butler, Texas Tech, and Michigan State. During the same time he has defeated programs like Michigan State, Maryland (twice), Tennessee, North Carolina, Cincinnati, and Wisconsin. These lists are qualified within the first six games of the season but you get the idea that Mark Few knows what he is doing when he begins a season. Five losses in the past five years' first six games (convoluted, I know) is extremely impressive. When you look across the program and see highly ranked teams consistently lay eggs in early season play, it's easy to understand why this is such an amazing feat. So many times, we see bubble teams in the NCAA Tournament make or break their bid with how they did in their early season nonconference games. In college basketball, it's pretty easy to get buried in the public eye before conference play begins. If you look at a team like Oklahoma that went to Alaska and played back-to-back terrible games in losing efforts to San Diego and Houston, they have their work cut out for them to impress the country because those are two very bad losses when March rolls around.
Our schedule is behaving very oddly
Typically around this time of the year, we write a post or talk about just how horrendous our December schedule is and how awful the West Coast Conference is. This year, the December slate is beginning to look extremely appetizing and seems to get simpler by the day. Next month, Gonzaga will only be making one legitimate road trip to New York City to play the Duke Blue Devils. The great thing is that, during the month, the Zags will be getting Washington State, Wake Forest, and Davidson, and Oklahoma all in the state of Washington. With all due respect to those teams on the schedule that we get in the state, I have no reason to believe why we can't defeat them all judging by the way they have begun the season. Wake Forest is the only one that I really haven't seen play yet but that will all change on December 1st when the play Purdue and then four days later when they visit Spokane. Washington State has been winning but rather ugly and is one of those teams where if you stop one guy (Klay Thompson), you stop WSU. Davidson is obviously down this season after losing Stephen Curry but played well earlier when they took Butler deep into the game. Oklahoma, as I've already mentioned, is REALLY struggling but they could get it together come late December. Their is too much talent on that team to not make a run. Duke is obviously the remaining crown jewel of this schedule. Defeat them, and Gonzaga has their signature win and it'll prove that this team can sustain.
The other side of the coin: the WCC
We all know about the Pac-10's state this season. There are really only two teams worth mentioning this season. Cal is one of them but has been really banged up to start the season. The other one, sadly, is the University of Washington. Other than that, the conference is either really young (the Arizonas and Oregon State) or really bad (the SoCal schools). The WCC has taken advantage of both aspects of this conference and has given this conference some fun early season wins. Portland defeated in-state rival Oregon and then treated UCLA like a D-2 school and beat them 74-47. They've gone on to also beat Minnesota and now have the chance to really stun the country as they match up with West Virginia this evening. As impressive as Gonzaga has been, Portland has the chance to put together an even better start to the year. They've already beaten two Pac-10 teams and a Big-10 team (better than Wisconsin). If they can upset the Mountaineers, they may have a better top 25 argument than our beloved Zags. Saint Mary's has also had a nice start to the year with a dominating win over tourney hopeful San Diego State and a down to the wire loss to Vanderbilt. They have Oregon coming up on the schedule. San Diego defeated a dismal Stanford team in the opening game of their season and is now about to play in the championship game of the Great Alaska Shootout after beating Oklahoma and Houston. Brandon Johnson is back and has instantly been reinstated as the most exciting player to watch in the conference along with Keion Bell. The bottom half of the WCC is still a pretty serious work in progress but that didn't stop Loyola Marymount from upsetting USC. That might be the most stunning of all the upsets so far in the conference. I know USC is in turmoil but LMU has defined turmoil the past calendar year. For them to upset a school that has unfathomable resources like USC is just shocking on many levels.
Do we need to worry about the almighty NBA?
This is now a very real and present danger for this Gonzaga team. Elias Harris should be a household name in college basketball fans house after the month of December and Robert Sacre has shown tremendous growth in his post game. When you think about Rob's combination of size and post improvement, you have to wonder if he'll be lured by the professional ranks. He's only a redshirt sophomore so we could have two more years with Rob after this one but I think he'll leave early; not this season, but next. He's still a bit raw on the boards and on defense to make that jump and he has plenty of time for the NBA. Elias Harris is an interesting story. He's already got the size, the versatility, and the energy to make many scouts take a long look at him. Harris has said that attending college in the states has always been a dream of his but I'm sure he also looked at the exposure college basketball gets here and liked that as he considered his future. For the life of me, I have no clue how this kid was buried in the German pro leagues but he has definitely burst on the scene stateside. I don't think he'll be a one and done. Rob and Elias have to know that what they have is remarkable and that next year they could take Gonzaga further than they have every gone before. At least this is my hope.