TSSF Discussion: Answering Gonzaga's biggest questions heading into 2010-11

As promised, Max and I have taken the time to answer the questions that we poised to you all yesterday.  We'll continue to do this sort of thing leading up to the season as it was a blast reading all your opinions and there were definitely some great points risen by many of you.  So, without further ado...here is what Max and I came up with...

1.  If you had to pick one...and I know it is tough...which nonconference game (click here for schedule) worries you this most next season?

Max Mandel:  The toughest game on the schedule is Baylor. Lacedarius Dunn is the type of guard that Gonzaga has struggled to contain over the past five years, and the Bears have enough shooters to force Gonzaga out of the comfort of the 2-3 zone on defense. Incoming freshman Perry Jones is arguably the most talented guy in the 2010 class and there is no one on the roster that can match up with him if he is committed to playing inside. When you also factor in that this is essentially a home game for Baylor, I view this as the most difficult game on the schedule.

Zach Bell:  I could give this honor to three teams in all honesty: Kansas State, Baylor, and Memphis are all teams that will give the Zags fits next season but I have to say the hardest game currently on the schedule is Kansas State.  The front court trio of Curtis Kelly, Wally Judge, and Jamar Samuels is athletic, long, and very scrappy on both ends of the court.  Frank Martin coaches that team with such an intensity and star guard Jacob Pullen has great range (40% from three last season).  Defending the Wildcats will be a very difficult task for the Zags and thinks could unwind quickly if Robert Sacre gets in immediate foul trouble.

2.  Which incoming freshman (not Marquise Carter or Sam Dower), if any, will have the greatest impact next season?

MM:  While I don't expect any to have an Elias type impact this season, I would expect that Mathis Monninghoff will see some action. He has an excellent shooting stroke and enough size to be a problem on the offensive end of the court. It really depends how quickly he can pick up the offense, because he has the skill set to contribute.

ZB:  At this point, I wouldn't be surprised to see any of the incoming freshmen redshirt...but I could also see each of them contributing right away.  If he doesn't redshirt, I actually envision Mathis Keita making the most significant impact next year.  You won't see it on the stat sheet, but Gonzaga will need athletic and long defenders next year against a loaded nonconference schedule and Keita is easily the best defender out of the newcomers.  He has a Rajon Rondo type physique with long arms and could be a sort of Larry Gurgainous type player that hopefully forces Mark few to pressure the ball in the back court more often.

continue reading after the jump for more answers...

3.  In the 14-game West Coast Conference schedule, Gonzaga's record will be?  If they lose, who  will beat them?

MM:  I'll go with 13-1. It's incredibly difficult to go through an entire WCC schedule undefeated, especially with the conference seeming to be on the upswing currently. I'll go ahead and say that Gonzaga falls to Santa Clara in the Bay Area.

ZB:  After last season, this prediction is hard to make but I will say 13-1.  Since we can only look at this on paper, my loss has to be at the hands of LMU.  Although Kevin Young has left the team, they return WCC player of the year contender Drew Viney, outstanding combo guard Vernon Teel, and skilled forward Ashley Hamilton.  If they can get some consistent play from the center position, LMU is a team that could make run at an NCAA bid.  Don't be surprised also if Vernon Teel becomes one of the top players on the West Coast, as well. 

4.  Who will start the season at the point guard position?  Who will be the starter at the beginning of conference play?

MMDemetri Goodson will be the starting point guard throughout the season. Meech will have the entire preseason to get to know his teammates and develop his role in the offense. I think it's important to remember that in the one game that Matt Bouldin didn't play in last year (and no, Mike, this is not a bash on Bouldin type thing), Meech scored 22 points. With more shooters on the court, I expect more driving lanes to be open, and for Meech to develop into a solid starting point guard.

ZB:  I'm about 98% sure that Demetri Goodson will be Gonzaga's starting point guard the entire season.  There will definitely be games where he doesn't log the most minutes at point, but I expect him to make a solid jump now that he is this teams primary distributor rather than deferring to Matt Bouldin every time down the floor.  Like the rest of the Gonzaga fanbase, my confidence in Meech after last season isn't exactly through the roof, but I know this kid has point guard ability and I expect him to turn some heads this season.

5.  Which returning player do you feel is the most poised to have a breakout season in 2010-11?

MM:  If Mangisto Arop doesn't emerge as one of the top players on the West Coast, regardless of position, I will be stunned. Manny has an incredible work ethic and will likely be the starting SF when the season kicks off. Assuming he was able to continue and develop his jumper over the summer, the sky is truly the limit for him.

ZBKelly Olynyk.  I used to be Kelly's biggest critic but I really do love watching him play.  With the addition of Sam Dower, Kelly will have more freedom to play from the outside where he is more comfortable and I expect him to become a very solid shot maker for this team.  If his defense can catch up with his obvious offensive talent, it is going to be very, very difficult for Mark Few to keep him off the court in 2011.

6.  At the end of the year, what will we be saying about Sam Dower's redshirt freshman season?

MM:  Gonzaga fans will be wondering just how many points a game he could average when he is a starter. I expect Sam to be instant offense off the bench and to likely be our best post scorer. Sam is an excellent athlete who has a rapidly developing post-game to go along with his mid-range jumper. Once he gets accustomed to the speed and physicality of the Division I level, he will be truly special.

ZB:  I think Sam is going to have a good year.  I realize that sounds incredibly vague but I just think it will be good.  A lot of it will come down to how well he has matured physically.  There are going to be games where he comes in and picks up two quick fouls and we never see him again but if he gets in the flow and begins to work in transition where he thrives, Sam could put up double digits in a hurry.  He's got great range for a big man but there are definitely going to be some growing pains. 

7.  What adjustments would you like to see from the coaching staff in order to adapt to the talent and skill set on this roster as opposed to years past?

MM:  I think the key for this season is establishing an eight-man rotation and sticking with it through the early season struggles. It makes sense that the starting lineup is Meech, Gray, Arop, Harris and Sacre, with Carter, Dower and Olynyk making up the main bench rotation. If Monninghoff is capable of being a steady rotation player, then perhaps you expand the rotation to nine.

ZB:  Make defense a point of emphasis.  Steven Gray, Manny Arop, and Demetri Goodson are all elite defenders.  Robert Sacre, when he uses his head, is a very skilled shot blocker.  Sam Dower is very long and was a great shot blocker in high school and makes a living running the floor.  We have the personnel to pressure the ball, show traps at half court, and generally create chaos rather than constantly having to react to it.  Scoring shouldn't be an issue for this team, but establishing an intensity of defense is something that this group should be able to do.

8.  Last, but certainly not least, is there a ceiling for this team in terms of a tournament run?  How far can they go?

MM:  This team is capable of making the Final 4. There is a level of athleticism that length that didn't exist last year. As Dower and Carter adjust to playing at this level of basketball, the team should improve and a natural rotation should develop. Hopefully this will be the year that the team is peaking heading into March and therefore will be primed for a deep tournament run.

ZB:  Scanning the college basketball landscape, you can't really point out a whole lot of elite teams.  For that reason, I think this team truly has the personnel to make a deep run into the Elite 8 and, if the matchups work out, a Final Four.  The front court is so, so skilled that there won't be many teams that can match up.  If the Zags can get consistent play at the point guard spot and if the staff can utilize the length and athleticism of this team, the sky should be the limit.

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