After a disappointing loss to San Diego St., the next two games will present this team with the ultimate gut check. While I think every fan Gonzaga fan grew frustrated watching the Aztecs bring down nearly every offensive rebound in key situations, I am hoping to instead look back on the loss to San Diego St. as the game that set the tone for the season. I know that there have been fans questioning why Manny Arop and Marquise Carter aren't seeing more action, and my belief is now is the point in the season where every coaching staff should be sending a message to his team. Essentially, every coach should send a message to his team in November, so that when March rolls around, the team can send a message to the rest of college basketball. If Manny isn't putting it together during practice as has been discussed, then frankly, he shouldn't be on the court during games. If Marquise hasn't picked up the offense or doesn't understand his role, he should be watching from the bench until he figures it out.
With that said, it's time to take a look at what could be one of the games that defines this season. I know that's early, but learning how this group will respond to adversity is going to be interesting to watch. If people thought that San Diego St. was a tough group that could dominate on the boards, then prepare to be blown away by Kansas St. This is a team that defines toughness in everything that it does, and will certainly be planning to come out and try and bully what appears to be a soft Gonzaga frontcourt. The onus is on guys like Rob Sacre, Elias Harris and Sam Dower to respond with toughness and an edge of physicality that I'm not sure they have.
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When discussing Kansas St. basketball, it begins and ends with Jacob Pullen. The tremendous guard is one of the elite scorers in the country and will certainly be the primary focus for the coaching staff. While I would normally say that Steven Gray would be the ideal matchup on Pullen, I'm not sure it's reasonable to expect Gray to slow down Pullen, while also making the key offensive contribution that is necessary for this team. Therefore, I would like to see a combination of Meech and The Hoff for much of the game. If Manny Arop is ready to play himself into the rotation, then I think he would also provide an excellent option defensively. The reason that Meech might be a good option defensively is because Pullen is generously listed at 6'0. Meech should be able to pester Pullen around the court and use his quickness to limit the amount of touches and good looks that he gets throughout the game.
The return of senior forward/center Curtis Kelly should give the Wildcats another scoring and rebounding option in the post. Kelly was benched to start the season because of what appears to be a lack of leadership/commitment. It will be interesting to see if Kelly comes out and shows the flashes of greatness that were on display during the NCAA Tournament run last season, or if he comes out flat and rusty. However, the combination of Kelly, Wally Judge and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts will be incredibly difficult for Gonzaga to slow down. The Kansas State bigs aren't the type of guys that demand the ball and need it to be effective. Instead, they play off the talented group of guards and take advantage of offensive rebounds.
As I mentioned before, this game will be a great test of this team and will show what exactly it is made of. I don't know whether I am naïve or optimistic, but I just believe that we will something positive from the Zags today. I'm not as high on Kansas State as many people are, and I genuinely believe that if both teams bring their "A" game, Gonzaga emerges victorious. I think we see this team get back on the right track, and the Zags come away with the 77-67 win.