Gonzaga's success over the past decade has been largely due to incredible backcourts. Guys like Matt Santangelo, Blake Stepp, Dan Dickau, Jeremy Pargo, Derek Raivio, and so many other guards have carried the program to where it is today. This year, however, most believe that it will be the frontcourt that can take this program to that next level. While the frontcourt isn't without any question marks, I'm not sure if there are any serious weaknesses present. Mark Few has a sure fire WCC player of the year contender, a fifth year center, a smooth lefty who showed huge potential last year, a seven-footer with the mentality of a guard, and a freshman banger at his disposal. The front line is versatile, it is experienced, but the biggest question mark is whether or not they can make a big enough jump to take this program to new heights.
Before we get too in depth on any individual expectation, it is probably worth taking some time to address the group as a whole. In particular, who might not be a member of that group this year. If you have been around the blog this offseason, you have assuredly heard about the possibility of Kelly Olynyk redshirting. While we will likely know the answer to that question on Friday, it is worth noting that this rumor has legs. Personally, I think this is a superb move by the staff and is the main reason why we saw most of the 2012 recruiting come to a halt. What it means for this season is that Robert Sacre, Elias Harris, Sam Dower, and Ryan Spangler are going to be your rotating frontline. In my opinion, it is a very powerful group and they all have very distinct skill sets. We'll explore more after the jump...
There has been a lot of hype around the 2012 Gonzaga frontcourt. I would call myself more cautiously optimistic than anything else when discussing them. I say that because I still believe there is much to prove. This all starts with the senior center, Rob Sacre.
Many are expecting Rob to light the world on fire and contend for a number of individual honors. I believe that Rob is a tremendous player and asset to this team, but I am nowhere near the camp that believes Rob is that guy. Ideally, Gonzaga needs Rob Sacre to be solid. That means he needs to stay on the court, be efficient when he decides to attack the basket, and take care of the ball. My dream line for Rob would be 4-6 from the floor, 4-6 from the line, and pull in 8-10 rebounds all while staying on the floor early in the game with consistency. With four members of the frontline this year, it will be pretty important that each member is cautious with how many fouls they have and as the only true center, it is paramount that Rob stay in good position. I imagine most will view my hopes for Rob as shortsighted but my views are the way they are for two reasons. First, I just think Rob has a ceiling that he is very close to hitting and that now he needs to refine some of the things he does. Secondly, I think the other members of the frontline are going to shoulder more of the 'explosion' factor.
The offensive expectations I have for the Elias Harris & Sam Dower combination are quite immense. As we have witnessed in the past, both men have the ability to go off for 20+ points at any given time. Last year was rough for Elias Harris. He was plagued by various injuries throughout the season and just never quite seemed to be himself. This year, everything has gone right by all reports. He has been with the team all summer, has trimmed down, and is running at full speed. As we saw during his freshman season and in spurts as a sophomore, a healthy Elias is extremely hard to stop. He's one of the stronger players in the country when he attacks the rim and if he isn't scoring, he is usually drawing fouls. Sam Dower, on the other hand, plays with a bit more finesse than the hard-charging Harris. Sam is a skilled lefty that really made most fans to backflips a season ago with some of his offensive outbursts. The key for Sam will be what he does when people are noticing him in gameplans. What does he do when they take away his left. When that happened last year, he was usually pulled but this year, he is going to have to be more consistent when things are going against his strengths.
The other area where both Sam and Elias must improve is their defense. Elias was exposed a number of times last season when he was forced to defend on the perimeter. Whether you attribute that to injury or something else, it must be worked on. As I said, Elias is an incredibly strong player but where he lacks is lateral quickness and using high basketball IQ to defend as opposed to his outstanding athleticism. On the other hand, Sam Dower is still working on remaining tough in the paint. Thankfully he has a very good defensive teacher in Rob Sacre. Rob has really perfected the art of the big man popping out to the perimeter and he has made huge strides as an interior defender.
The last member is Ryan Spangler. Spangler is a tremendous complement to the current veteran stable. The staff is counting on Spangler to bolster this team's presence on the boards. While the team rebounding has never been that bad, no one would call Rob Sacre and Elias Harris prolific rebounders. If I had to describe my hope for Spangler it would be someone who incites chaos on the court. By all accounts, it sounds like he is a guy that is just going to piss opponents off on the court. He will do a lot of the little things teams need to win games. Getting big rebounds, clearing out the lane, and providing a spark off the bench is what I expect from Ryan. He likely won't have huge outputs offensively but Ryan is a player that I can't to see this season.