What to Expect Without Austin - Upperclassmen Edition

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Last week I addressed what expectations Gonzaga fans should have for the underclassmen during the 2009/2010 season (Click here to read article). Even as I was writing the article, I was utterly surprised by how loaded the roster will be with freshman and sophomores. While you can't deny the potential and talent that is littered throughout that group, the play of the upperclassmen will be vital in order to get the Zags through what should be an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule. I think it's fair that the success of the team next year will depend on two upperclassmen who need to improve their games in order for next season to be deemed a success.

Juniors: Can you believe what has become of the vaunted 2007 recruiting class? Austin Daye teased Gonzaga fans with his incredible talent, but before ever emerging as a star, he decided to take his game to the NBA. Rob Sacre has battled injuries during his time in Spokane, and was forced to use his redshirt last season. With Ira Brown graduating after his two years in Spokane, all that remains is Steven Gray.

Steven Gray: In my opinion, Steven Gray has the most pressure heading into next season. In his first two years, Steven has been able to serve as a 5th or 6th option on this team, and has been serviceable in that role. However, with the departure of the senior class and Austin to the NBA, Gray will enter next season as the #2 option on offense, and some might even argue, potentially the #1 option. We all know that Steven possesses the deadly ability to score from the perimeter, as well as the strength to attack the rim. Here is what Mark Few had to say about Steven in a recent interview.

Gray tantalizes NBA scouts with his size, his athleticism, and most importantly his butter-smooth shooting stroke. (He's a career 39.6 percent shooter from three.) The only thing Gray lacks is a superstar's confidence to go with his prodigious gifts. "We've been after Steve forever to hunt his shot more," said Few, who served as a court coach during the USA trials. "It's just not in his personality. I tell him, you've got a great stroke. Be aggressive."

If Steven can develop this confidence and have the attitude of a superstar, I believe he is a capable of being the Zags leading scorer and averaging around 18 points per game. However, I have never seen him display anything remotely close to this attitude, and have often been frustrated by how passive he is during games. Not to totally load the pressure on Steven, but his play will go a long way in deciding how successful the Zags will be next season.

Seniors: Although this group only features two guys, it's fair to say that there are completely different expectations for each guy. In Matt Bouldin, you have a proven starter, and the likely WCC POY next season. With Will Foster, you have a tantalizing 7'4 big guy, who in a team that is not proven in the post, could potentially blossom next season.

Will Foster: There is no player who causes such a differing opinion among Gonzaga fans. Half of the Gonzaga fans clamor for Will to get more minutes, and believe that he is a game changer. The other half can't believe he is still on scholarship, and think he has an attitude problem. To be honest, I don't think either assessment is fair. What Will brings to the court is the ability to alter shots on the defensive end, and he runs the floor quite well for a big guy. When Will is active defensively, it can really force a team to gameplan around him. The issue with Will is that he is not always active, and he is a liability on the offensive end. Will doesn't possess great hands, and also has a limited post game. Therefore, it becomes quite difficult for Coach Few and the rest of the staff to decide how to use him. I really hope that we see Will make an impact defensively this season, but I really think it will come down to Will and Sam for the 4th spot in the post rotation, and I'm just not sure who will emerge.

Matt Bouldin: We all know what Matt is capable of, and what he can bring to the table. Matt should have been the WCC POY last season, and is almost a guarantee to score around 15 points per game, as well as dish out assists and rebound the ball. For pretty much any Gonzaga team, those stats would be enough. However, I really believe that Matt needs to elevate his game to another level for the Zags to emerge as a top 15 team. I think Matt not only needs to average closer to 18 points per game, but he must emerge as a leader for this group. I know this is a ton of pressure to put on Matt, but there can't be any more disappearances in big games, and he must play at the highest level he is capable of every night.

What do you guys think? Am I putting too much pressure on Steven and Matt? Can Will have a breakout senior year? Let us know what you are thinking about the 2009/2010 Zags.

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