In every sport you see what has been happening to Gonzaga in recent games. In fact, I almost feel like I am watching a basketball version of my Denver Broncos when I look at this Bulldog team. This is obviously not to be taken in a literal sense but when you step back and look at all the preseason questions surrounding both teams, and then the hot starts both enjoyed, and then the return back to Earth, it's easy to draw some comparisons . This is not just a fact exclusive to these two teams. Early season games, no matter what the sport, are so unpredictable because there isn't a whole lot of tape on what to expect from a team. When you combined this with the fact that Gonzaga has so many new faces in such different roles this season, it is clear to see why a hot start was so attainable. Against Michigan State and in Maui, the Zags obviously caught a lot of teams off guard with the way they played the game. The soft, perimeter based team of old was replaced by a tough, interior driven team that nearly upset the Spartans and took home the Maui title. Now, after two rather underwhelming home performances, I think it is safe to say that the word is out on this team. It is now up to Mark Few and the staff to make adjustments of their own as we move forward and finally settle on a rotation. If they can do so, Gonzaga can really establish itself as true contender by January. If they can't, I think we are looking at a very long December and a rocky WCC slate.
The good news is that a number of players are stepping up. We've seen good individual efforts from Mangisto Arop, Grant Gibbs, Kelly Olynyk etc etc. I think we all something in the Wake Forest game, however, that made us very confident about bench contributions. From the middle of the second half on, the game was well within reach thanks to some great Mark Few adjustments, an exciting and versatile lineup, and the launch of one Mr. Bol Kong.
continue reading about Bol's importance to the team after the jump...
Like I said, and this probably isn't groundbreaking news to Gonzaga fans, in the past two or three games opposing teams have been throwing out new looks against the Bulldogs. Mainly it has consisted of two major themes. Double Robert Sacre in the paint and write Demetri Goodson a letter urging him to shoot from the outside. Literally if you watched the Wake Forest game, they did not pick up Demetri Goodson on defense until he got to the free throw line extended. I believe I even saw Ish Smith talking to Meech and I can only imagine him saying "shoot it". Once the ball is passed into Rob, they rotate and one of the guards crashes on him and, like we saw against WSU, it caused Rob to turn the ball over. Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray are still being hounded wherever they go which is why we've seen both (especially Steven) struggle recently. Long story short, the offense has gotten stagnate and extremely predictable. Luckily, Matt Bouldin and, aside from the Wake Forest game, Elias Harris have been able to show consistent signs of contribution. Now what we need is someone off the bench to come in and make an impact. In that Wake Forest game, that man was Bol Kong and I think he will be that man for the duration of the season.
I think we all know what we are getting with Bol. When I envision his role on this Gonzaga team, I look at someone like Taylor King on Villanova. The Wildcats have outstanding guard play but they also have King who is a big forward that sets up outside and knocks down big shots. What this does, besides provide instant offense, is that it frees up the guards a little bit. Instead of Steven Gray and Matt Bouldin having to drive past their men and through Elias and Rob's men, they have more space because teams have to respect the kick out. Assuming Rob is mainly the screen man in this offense with Matt and Steven's drive being the primary option, I think this lineup could absolutely flourish. This can also aid Rob if Bol is on the court when Sacre is the primary option. Rather than the defense sliding away from someone like Meech, they will have to respect Bol (or will learn to) and that will diminish the times Rob gets double-teamed and will lead to more effective performances from him. We all thought that the defense would be stretched with Steven Gray being on the court but it's still clear that his best basketball is played when he attacks the bucket. With Kong's three-point ability, he really help take the focus out of the paint and I think the court will instantly look bigger to the four other guys on the court.
So, in this post I have assembled a lineup of Matt, Steven, ?, Bol, and Rob. I think the final player, and we also saw this against Wake has to be Mangisto Arop for a number of reasons. One, in a small lineup there is much to be made up for as far as defense and rebounding go. Manny provides both. With his long arms, Manny has established himself as possibly the best rebounded on this team. His footwork is still coming along on defense but his athletic ability does make up for it. Once he increases his lateral quickness, he is going to be frightening on defense. This is also important as Bol has never been known for defense. However, with Steven Gray and Manny on the court together, I think Kong will be able to hold his own as he will probably be asked to guard a team's worst offensive weapon. I think we all saw how nicely this line up click and why in certain situations, this is hands down the best scoring group of players. I feel like Rob Sacre and Elias Harris can be interchangeable because, if you throw Elias in the mix, you have one of the most athletic line ups in the country. That's the beauty of this team is that they are still being molded into their roles and by season's end I believe that Mark Few is going to fully understand what combinations are most lethal at what times meaning that no one will want to take on the Zags come March.