What insight did the opener provide?

After following the exhibition opener against Alberta, part of me wants to get excited and believe that this freshman class is as good as we all had hoped. Part of me wants to believe that all the worries we had about front court depth were unfounded, since Sam Dower and Kelly Olynyk seem like they could contribute in a big way. However, just as I really began to believe all of these thoughts, I remembered who the opponent was and what was at stake in this game. The best example I have for why nothing should ever be taken from an exhibition game is the first game that Larry Gurganious played in a Gonzaga uniform. In his debut as a freshman, Gurganious was absolutely incredible. He jumped the passing lane on seemingly every pass and finished with thundering dunks. After the first exhibition game, he even was named a starter for the second exhibition game. Unfortunately, Gurganious could never replicate the from against Division I competition, as the talent level and execution typically is at a much higher level. Gonzaga fans can even look back to last season when Andy Poling stole the show in the lone exhibition game. Poling was a menace on the glass and seemed to be an effective scorer in the post. With that said, the coaching staff clearly didn't make much of his performance because of the competition, and decided that Andy would be better suited taking a redshirt year. Now that I have finished my little rant on the significance of exhibition games, lets turn the focus to the highlights and what we should make of the 94-53 win over Alberta.

The first thing that jumps out from this exhibition game is the feeling that this could be the one of the deepest groups that Mark Few has ever had at his disposal. As I mentioned in the game chat, it seems that this group could legitimately go 10 guys deep, and not have a huge drop off between the starting five and the next five. The back court seems completely loaded with Meech, Bouldin, and Gray clearly the starters. Mangisto Arop carried over his play from the summer with the Canadian National team and it appears that his game seems to be naturally transitioning from international play to the NCAA game. Arop pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds, which is just an incredible amount from the guard position. After seeing him do this the past two years with NEDA and in FIBA competition, it seems that we can confidently assume that Manny will have no problem attacking the glass at this level. GJ Vilarino provided a nice spark off the bench for the team. I like the three assists he produced, but I never want to see Vilarino take seven shots in a game this season. He needs to embrace the role that Meech did last year, and attack the rim in order to find open shooters. It appears the last spot in the backcourt rotation is still a competition between Grant Gibbs and Bol Kong. With Kong injured, Gibbs has the chance to establish himself in that role. However, Gibbs struggled tonight in limited minutes, and can't turn the ball over if he hopes to find consistent playing time.

 

Taking a look at the front court provides some more questions marks. Throughout the summer, we predicted that Harris and Sacre would start and be a pretty formidable duo. Sacre came out and did exactly what is expected of him, which is rebound and provide energy. Sacre forced no shots on the offensive end and was a force on the glass. Harris came out with some freshman jitters, but after settling down and finding his rhythm in the second half, he demonstrated the athleticism and skill that will make him a special player during his time in Spokane. When you look at the depth of the front court, that is when the picture begins to get cloudy. Both Sam Dower and Kelly Olynyk looked fantastic in their debuts tonight. However, they were facing guys who they were bigger and stronger then. I really question whether Dower and Olynyk could put this type of production together against LMU, and I am even more wary about how they would play against the likes of Memphis, Duke, and Michigan St. If either one is more likely to replicate their performance, I would go with Dower. He played against very solid competition in Minnesota, and he has the type of offensive game that will allow him to score even if he does not have the strength to match up with his defender. Defensively, Dower will be a liability throughout the season, since he just doesn't have the strength to compete against the elite level teams. In a perfect scenario, both would be redshirt candidates, as they each have scary good potential after they develop strength and get more comfortable in the offensive system. In order for the team to have confidence in redshirting Dower and/or Olynyk, Andy Poling will have to prove he is capable of providing valuable minutes off the bench.

As you may have guessed, I really can't find much to take from this game. I love how Matt Bouldin played, but I expect this type of production from him. The question with Bouldin will continue to be how he plays against elite athletes. Steven Gray showed some solid aggressiveness on the offensive end, but continued to settle for deep shots instead of attacking the rim. There is no reason for him to settle on the perimeter, since he has the strength and athleticism to attack the rim against any defender. Coach Few and the staff will learn so much more about this team when they scrimmage Texas on Saturday. This will be an excellent opportunity to learn more about the rotation and to get a better sense for who can contribute against elite competition. One thing I do know after this game is that this will be a fun season to watch. There is great depth and youth on this team, and I think there is the potential for a surprisingly good team by January.

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