While watching games on TV allows any fan to follow the Zags, I'm a huge believer that the best way to evaluate a team is to watch them in person. As a resident of Portland, I was able to head over to the Chiles Center and watch the Zags in person for the first time this season. Although the game wasn't a thing of beauty, there were a few aspects of the game that I really focused on now that I was able to see the team in person. Before I get to the game, I would like to thank the great table of Zag fans I had the pleasure of dining with, who for some reason spend their time reading the thoughts of this site :). Thanks for the kind words guys!!!
What I liked: There were actually many positives I took away from this game. The first, and perhaps the most obvious, was the play of Gary Bell Jr. As a long time admirer of his game, this was my first chance to watch him in person since he was heading into his junior year at Kentridge. Needless to say, I was beyond impressed. GBJ is built like a senior in college and has unbelievable court vision coming off screens. He is just so confident with the ball and makes great decisions. I truly believe this season is just a slight glimpse into his potential, and once he fully grasps the nuances of the offense and his role in it, watch out.Another positive aspect to take away from this game was the outstanding performance from Marquise Carter. What I found interesting is that instead of trying to force action, he has slowed the game down and started playing at his more natural pace. He was nearly unguardable off the pick-and-roll, hitting all three bigs with great passes that led to, or at least should have led to, easy layups. If Marquise can continue to contribute as he did against Portland, which means delivering solid minutes and playmaking ability off the bench, this backcourt becomes even better.
The last positive takeaway for me, and this might just be the most important, was the fact that it seems a clear 8-man rotation has formed. I thought the coaching staff did an excellent job balancing minutes and it seems clear that Bell, Pangos, Harris, Edi, Sacre, Dower, Stockton and Carter will be the guys who will determine how far this team can go. Too be honest, those would be the eight that I would choose, so this rotation, and the potential it has to improve is exciting. If you haven't had the chance to see Landry-Edi in person, it's hard to notice just how excellent of an on-ball defender he is. With his size, guards really struggle to beat him off the dribble. He does have a habit of taking risks in the passing lanes, but in general, his defensive effort was excellent.
What I didn't like: It seems odd for me to have an issue with 16 points and five rebounds from Robert Sacre, but the amount of points he tends to leave on the floor is just staggering. As evidenced by his 5/5 shooting from the floor, Sacre finished the ball very well last night, but he should have had a handful of more buckets if it wasn't for drops of passes or taking too long to go up with the ball. I'm not sure I have seen a Gonzaga team that makes such a concerted effort to give the ball to the bigs, which makes the fact that Sacre isn't ready for the ball even more surprising. Bell, Pangos, Carter and Stockton are all great passers, so it's very important that Sacre is ready for the ball at all times.
The other development that had me worried occurred in the second half and it involved Kevin Pangos. After some terrific ball movement, Pangos turned down a wide open look from the perimeter and instead took a tough floater that he missed. As Mark Few clearly pointed out after the sequence, there is no circumstance in a game, except if the team is trying to kill clock, that should have Pangos passing up open shots. This team loses its edge if Pangos isn't aggressive and begins to pass up shots. Even if he is missing, he needs to shoot from the perimeter to open up the driving and passing lanes.
Hopefully this won't be the last time I see the Zags this season. Like many fans, I'm holding out hope that this team can keep the impressive run going and earn a high enough seed to be based in Portland for the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The belief that I took away from this game was that I think the next six days could be the most important portion of the season. You don't typically have six days to practice during the season, but that is what the Zags have before traveling to Provo. If they can take advantage of this time to improve the offensive motion and flow, it could elevate this group to another level.