When Austin Daye formally announced that he was remaining in the NBA draft, Gonzaga essentially lost their leading scoring option for the 2009/2010 season. I know many people question whether Austin indeed would have been the breakout performer that I have long advocated he would be, but even those who question that must agree that Austin likely would have been expected to score between 16-20 points per game. Another area that the Zags must now address is who will replace Daye's production on the glass. Austin has long been labeled soft, but he did lead the team with 6.8 rebounds per game last year. So in 26.3 minutes per game, Austin averaged 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. If we were to assume that Austin would have matured as a player, and been able to stay out of foul trouble, I don't think it would be outlandish to believe that he could have averaged 17 points and 9 rebounds. So the question remains, how will the Zags make up for the loss of his production. The team will obviously have to rely on some of the newcomers, and also some of the returners will need to mature and provide a dramatic increase in production. Here is what I expect from the returning Zags as we enter a season with more question marks than I can previously remember. Today, we look at the underclassmen, and what we can expect from the 10 freshman and sophomores on the roster.
Freshman: Never before has a group of Gonzaga freshman been relied on for this amount of production. Except for rare cases (Matt Bouldin/ the 2007 class), Mark Few typically does not trust freshman with heavy minutes and heavy production. The typical case is a player like Demetri Goodson, who averaged 13.4 minutes per game. Heading into this season, I think we can expect numerous freshman to receive some significant playing time.
Mangisto Arop: I expect Manny to be one of the freshman that will be relied on by Coach Few. I am extremely nervous about the knee tendinitis that Manny has been suffering from while playing with Team Canada, but assuming he is healthy, I expect Manny to be the potential 8th man on this roster. Manny can provide a spark defensively from the day he steps foot on campus, and he also has the length and athleticism to finish at the rim. However, I think his lack of a consistent jump shot will make him a bit of a liability offensively, so his contributions will be felt mostly by bringing energy on the defensive end.
Sam Dower: While I certainly believe that Sam will make quite the impact at Gonzaga by the end of his 4 years, I wouldn't expect much from him next year. Sam needs to improve his strength and continue to develop his offensive game before he can be ready to contribute against some of the top teams in the WCC and on the Zags schedule. With a likely 4/5 rotation featuring Rob, Elias, and Andy, the competition to be the 4th post player in the rotation likely comes down to Sam and Will. With the experience Will has, I expect Sam to redshirt and use the year to develop his game and add strength.
Elias Harris: It would not surprise me in anyway to see Elias Harris start for the Zags next year. As we have mentioned, and as Coach Giacoletti noted, Elias has played against men in the German professional league, and has put up nearly 20 and 10 against decent competition. He has the size and strength to be a natural PF at the DI level, and at 20 years of age, he will be mature enough to compete immediately. With Elias playing with the German national team this summer, I expect his game to continue and mature, and for him to make an incredible impact from day one.
Kelly Olynyk: I know that some quotes from Coach Few have suggested that Kelly could play some key minutes this year, but I don't believe it. Kelly certainly has an impressive skill set to go with his size, but I don't think he has the strength to see any minutes next year. He has played well for the Canadian national team, but he is playing against high school kids. While Kelly can score and play against 17 and 18 year olds, I don't think we can reasonably expect him to take the court against Michigan St. or Duke next year. I think we will see Kelly redshirt so that he can get stronger and get his game acclimated to playing against NCAA talent.
G.J Vilarino: Consider me a drinker of the Vilarino kool aid. Something tells me that Vilarino will see minutes similar to Meech last year, and will play a nearly identical role to that of Meech this past season. G.J has the speed and athleticism to be a force on the fast break, and also has the length to contain some of the top guards that the Zags will face. While I would like to see him add strength and improve his shooting, that isn't necessary for him to contribute 10-15 minutes a game next year off the bench.
Grant Gibbs: This is one of the more difficult guys to get a read on. Many of us expect Grant to potentially be a Bouldin type player during his time in Spokane, but I'm not sure there will be many minutes for him next year. I think it will essentially be a competition between Gibbs and Arop for the 8th man in the rotation, so it will be up to the coaching staff whether they would prefer the more steady Gibbs or the more explosive Arop. It should be interesting to see, and I expect this to not be decided until the Maui Invitational.
Andy Poling: The development of Andy Poling is one of the most important factors heading into the season. If Andy has improved his strength, we have on our hands an extremely skilled and nimble PF/C to bring off the bench. A rotation of Sacre/Harris/Poling would be very formidable, and one of the most versatile set of bigs on the West Coast. If Andy has developed the way everyone things he has during his redshirt year, he will likely be the 6th man, and see starter type minutes. If he hasn't, it could be a very tough year for Gonzaga.
Sophomores: This is a very interesting group of guys, as I think the coaching staff will have to rely heavily on Rob Sacre and Demetri Goodson for the team to be successful. There is also the added intrigue of potentially having Bol Kong in this group, which would give the Zags another scorer.
Rob Sacre: In order for the Zags to have a chance to be a special group next year, it's vital that we see a significant jump from Rob Sacre. While it was nice having Rob as a solid rebounder and power guy, it's time for him to develop into a scoring option and develop some confidence on the offensive end. I don't ever expect Rob to have a tremendous offensive repertoire, but it's crucial that he have a go to move, and also has some confidence to demand the ball and look to score. We know we will get energy from Rob, but this team needs him to be a productive force at the 5.
Demetri Goodson: As many of us have come to expect, it seems that Meech will be the heir to the PG position that Jeremy Pargo is living behind. Meech will certainly see a huge jump in minutes, and the real question for me is whether he can hold up the entire season playing 28-30 minutes a game. Meech will do a better job of setting up his teammates to score, and of running the fast break then Jeremy ever did. However, the real test will be how capable Meech is of running a half court offense, and if he can still contribute and dominate against a Big 10 type opponent that will slow the tempo. I have huge confidence in Meech, and I don't think the team will miss a beat with him running the show.
Bol Kong: The ultimate wild card in all of this is Bol Kong. Kong has already proven the ability to score against DI opponents, and he seems to have tremendous ability on the offensive end. I think it's fair to assume that if Kong is here to play next year, he will be the 7th man, and a tremendous scoring threat to bring off the bench. It is correct to assume that he might struggle at the beginning of the season, as its been a full year since he has played against quality competition, but after a couple of games, I expect Bol to be a tremendous scoring threat off the bench for the Zags. I picture a role similar to Austin Daye as a freshman.
What do you guys expect from these guys next year? It's obvious the Zags will rely on Bouldin and Gray, but which of these freshman and sophomores will come in and play significant minutes?