Cupcake time is over.
While it'd be nice to have a lengthy discussion about the outcome of today's Gonzaga-IUPUI game, I can't help but be completely focused on the next few games for this team. The Zags' thirty point victory over the Jaguars today was quite enjoyable. We saw some excellent individual performances, we saw some improvements, and we saw Mark Few continuing to tinker with lineups and the overall rotation. Taking a step back and looking at the box score now, there are definitely a few things that jump off the page. Two things that are particularly obvious thus far are Steven Gray and Gonzaga's team defense.
Steven Gray has been downright electric in the first two games of the season. Before the year began, people were wondering where Gray's head was at and would he fully embrace being "the man" on this team. If these first two games mean anything, I'd say we are in for a wonderful ride with Steven. I realize that Gonzaga has played Southern and IUPUI so far but Gray has been the total package in every sense of the phrase. In each of the first two games, Steven has had a legit shot at triple doubles. Today, he finished with 17 points, 8 assists, 8 boards, and 4 steals. His line against Southern was similarly outstanding. He's playing great defense and he appears to be very driven so far in the young season. He gives the Zags such versatility on the court because he can shoot from outside, create, dish, rebound, and turn around and play lock down defense.
So far, so good for Mr. Gray and the Zags. Read on for more thoughts...
With a very dangerous and underexposed San Diego State team on the horizon, one of my biggest concerns was how Gonzaga would be able to defend the Aztecs, particularly on the perimeter. What I've seen in the first two games thus far leaves me very confident for the beginning of what could be billed as the toughest nonconference slate in recent memory.
Starting in the second half of the Southern game and continuing on through the IUPUI game, Gonzaga has played phenomenal defense. While I have never been worried about the Demetri Goodson/Steven Gray combo on defense, there have been a few questions about Elias Harris and what kind of attitude a guy like Marquise Carter will bring to the table. In Elias' case, I'd say the jury is still out. If he plays small forward, I fully expect to watch games where we see Elias' man go off outside the arc. He's still learning how to guard the perimeter. What I do love is how hard he, and the rest of the team, appear to be working on defense. The Jaguars of IUPUI shot 35% from the field today and only connected on four of twenty-three shots from outside the arc. These are great numbers for a team that has historically allowed teams to stay in games due to poor perimeter defense.
Staying on the defensive tangent for a while, I must say that I have been nothing short of ecstatic about what I've seen from Robert Sacre thus far in every facet of the game. What I noticed today and against Southern is that Rob is becoming a very agile player for his 7' frame. His defense is so pure to watch because not only is he an accomplished shot blocker, but he has also become a very solid defender on the outside. His pop outs on the three point shooter have been very quick and his play is a big reason why IUPUI shot so poorly today. In terms of his rebounding numbers, he only had four today (commence hooting and hollering). I have noticed an improvement in the way he approaches rebounding however. He's active, boxing out, and not simply watching the ball in the air and trying to out jump everyone. He's clearing space in the paint which allows for his guards to step in and get boards. Like I've said all offseason, I don't really care if Rob has consistent double-doubles. I'll know if he is a better rebounder if the Zags begin dominating the glass as a team.
I don't mean to be blind towards the solid performances of Kelly Olynyk and other today. Kelly showed some confidence and much-needed aggression as he scored 13 points off the bench. His efficiency (6-7 in 16 minutes) was outstanding. Demetri Goodson also performed well today, scoring eight points with six assists versus two turnovers. While we all know Gonzaga's point guard situation isn't going to be worked out overnight, I do think as a whole, the committee has performed well.
Much more about early season impressions and Tuesday's big game with San Diego State to come soon!