Let's take a look back and assess what we have gone through so far this season, and then fantasize about where we can go.
- February 8: 20-4 (7-1*, WCC)
- Upcoming: vs SMC, vs SD, @LMU, @ Pepp, vs SC, vs USF
Before the games began we knew we had Matt, a bunch of question marks, and a mystery known as Steven Gray. We had so many questions about our inside play and whether the lack thereof would allow a team (many thought Portland) to dethrone us and break up our string of dominance. This idea was flipped on its' ear when we went to Michigan State and would have won by 20 with any experience. Portland has looked like a team that went 9-5 in the WCC last year, and as good as SMC could be they are not deep enough to earn the hardware.
Our initial expectations deemed this a rebuilding year because of the talent we lost. Some thought we were adding by subtraction, which could not be more true. We have a team that is easily Sweet 16 quality, when a few months ago we were sweating making the tournament altogether. The team has had great chemistry when they pretend they are unranked, so I will break it down...
- Matt Bouldin: What can you say? He is living up to expectations in every way, and amazingly, he actually seems to still be improving and adding dimensions to his game. He is our half-court PG, and he is as good as there is in the country at finding teammates with his unbelievable floor sense. Losing him will be brutal, but there IS NOT a better guard to sit behind and learn from. Not John Wall, not Scottie Reynolds, not anybody. His effect on this program will extend past his departure.
- Steven Gray: Before the season the jury was out on the Bainbridge Bomber, but he has arrived. He didn't look horrible early, but he was inconsistent and one-dimensional (like the majority of the WCC). He has learned how to work his game outside-in, and with the way Steve and Matt have played together it has become extremely entertaining. I was very passionate against calls for him to come off of the bench so Bol could start, and it seems like he felt the pressure and responded well while Bol started to miss everything.
- Elias Harris: Easy E will end his NBA career as the best non-Stockton Zag ever. This guy has brought so much excitement to this program, and is likely the difference between our unranked preseason expectation and our top 15 ranking. He has brought a level of hustle we have never seen from a legitimate player at GU, as well as the best post skills Gonzaga has ever had without question. In the past we have had a tendency to lay down and allow the offense to go dormant when things aren't clicking, but E will scramble for that rebound that is partly controlled by an opponent, creating extra possessions and points that we haven't earned in the past years.
- Robert Sacre: Hmm... The obvious positive is that he is a 7 footer, so he is very beneficial to us on defense. His offensive game isn't bad, it is just spotty. The first few games, he was getting one-on-ones a lot and scoring at will. His jump hook was gorgeous early, but he hit a wall when he started requiring double teams. This exposed his weakness in passing and ballhandling. This was easy to see and is a problem for bigs everywhere, but he is so physically imposing and didn't seem to attack the tin like a guy his size should. The good news: he seems to be catching on to it, and has gone up strong a lot in the last couple games (if you were wondering why we smashed UP and Memphis and lost to SF).
- Demetri Goodson: Before the season, he wasn't much of a concern. He looked great filling in for Pargo so we just assumed he would step in and take over the point looking like he did last year. Oops! Meech has shown some frustrating negative aspects to his game, all of which involve his offensive skill. He has thrown up some awful bricks, left the ground with no targets in sight, and taken more than a few selfish drives to the basket with nothing in mind but 2 points. But, as with Sacre, he is cutting the "me" part of his game and is feeling the results. Meech isn't perfect and will still make mistakes like any PG, but early in the year it didn't look like he was even trying to get better, and now he is. He's now more of a medium to run the offense through than a liability.
- Manny Arop: Didn't know what we were getting into when he arrived, but he has proven to be a necessary part of the rotation. He has shown he can tickle the twine from anywhere and he gives us a huge boost of energy. He plays good defense on the 2-4 positions, and is as good a rebounder as there is in the WCC. He is going to be the 6th man down the stretch, and he has earned the playing time.
- Bol Kong: Came in with some big hype, but we have done a good job letting him prove himself before crowning him. We learned from Austin Daye to make a guy actually prove himself before assuming all the hype is deserved. There were calls for Bol to be the focal point of our offense over Steven, Matt, and Elias early in the year. It is easy to say in hindsight that these ideas were probably influenced by some form of psychadelic drug and HS highlight tapes, but I claimed through and through that he is a great 6th man which I still stand by even though he is ice cold. Let's just hope he catches fire right around early-to-mid March.
- Kelly Olynyk: Kel has been appreciated for his hustle, which has compensated for his inexperience. He is about as akward under the basket as Glenn Beck is in the presence of Sarah Palin. It's pretty apparent that his struggles are all a result of youth, and that said he has done amazing coming off the bench. Of course he's left us scratching our domes a time or two, but they are all youthful mistakes.
- Grant Gibbs: In his first few appearances I wondered what he was doing on the court this year, but he can hit easy shots and control the ball, which is more than what we needed from him this early. He is not a game breaker, but he shows some nice room for improvement with a good fundamental base.
- GJ Villarino: Barely worth the mention as he is likely hitting the road, but who else thinks he could've earned substantial PT or started if he just wouldn't have been so selfish and ran the offense until he got a good shot? He can obviously handle and shoot, but he tried to shoot too early in the shot clock. He runs down the floor with a bunch of experienced players and pulls up for his own off-balance contested shot. Go ride the bench somewhere else.
- Will Foster: I was wrong. I was wrong. I was wrong. I am sorry, Will. I dissed you so hard, I said: "...I hope he shuts me up." and he has! His dunks and general offensive flow in Memphis after the FIST PUMP!!! free throw against UP proved he is not a joke like I said. I was wrong. He is an obstacle defensively inside, and he has discovered a "find me underneath" niche that has proven effective. Awesome.
We have argued a lot about the proper rotation to use, and even with how much I have questioned Few I don't think he could make it more efficient than it is now. This team is top-notch but the "loss" at USF has made us play with something to prove again.
So that's where we are as a team, hopefully the motivation remains strong.