Every Gonzaga fan has seen this clip. Embraced this clip. Embedded this clip deep within the nether regions of their brain.
This clip has shaped the expectations and dreams centered around the little program that could and helped spawn an 11-year reign atop the West Coast Conference, the likes of which hasn't been seen since the famed John Wooden days at UCLA.
If you're anything like me, and many of you are, each and every year you plop down in front of your TV and anxiously pace with bated breath on Selection Sunday, awaiting Gonzaga's seed and praying for a fair and rational judgment from the committee.
This year will be no different as the Zags are assured of an impressive 14th straight trip to the magical realm that is March Madness, once again granted an opportunity to make us cry on the floor or scream for joy.
For this season to be more than mere memories, for it to be truly different like senior Robert Sacre is hoping, the WCC power from Spokane will need to find a way to fulfill three major keys.
This is part one of a three-part series. With March Madness around the corner and Selection Sunday fast approaching, I will spend the next few weeks examining three major keys for Gonzaga on their road to potential success or possible failure during this season's NCAA Tournament.1. Which Kevin Pangos shows up?
Point guards have been a consistent theme throughout the halcyon years of Gonzaga's reign over the WCC. Everyone knows John Stockton's name but it was Matt Santangelo that laid his fingerprints on the Bulldogs' 1999 Elite Eight run. In the following years, WCC Player of the Year awards were awarded to a string of Zags' point guards that included Dan Dickau, Blake Stepp, and Derek Raivio. NBA reserve Jeremy Pargo's explosive athleticism and dynamic scoring ability earned him WCC POY honors for the 2007-2008 campaign and played a major role in the team's most recent romp to the Sweet 16 in 2009. After a couple of lean years at the position (God Bless you, Meech), a young Canadian has steadied the ship and once again positioned the Zags' youthful backcourt amongst the best on the West Coast.
The engine behind this team throughout the season has been freshman point guard Kevin Pangos and his dynamic offensive skills. Whether the newly minted WCC Newcomer of the Year was raining down three pointers on BYU and Washington State at the Kennel or hitting clutch runners in the lane and playing tenacious defense against two-time National Runner-Up Butler, Pangos played an important factor in the Zags' success throughout the year as they amassed a 24-5 record and sported a 13-3 mark in WCC play.
An obvious issue with any freshman is going to be consistency and Pangos has not been immune to struggles at times, especially on the road.
Pangos' home/away splits are worrisome for the Zags as they head into the NCAA Tournament -- if they somehow manage a 5 seed and are situated in Portland, these splits may not be much of an issue at all as the Oregon site is a home away from home (i.e. 2009 Sweet 16 run) for the Zags.If the Zags end up across the country at a hostile location like Greensboro or Louisville, it'll be interesting to see whether the mistake-prone Pangos that has a tendency to occasionally disappear on the road shows up.
KP has averaged over 15 points per game at home compared to a relatively paltry 10.6 ppg on the road or at neutral sites. Pangos averaged a little over 8 points per game in the Zags' five losses compared to 14.7 ppg in the Zags' victories. The wiry point guard with a calming effect on the team is usually at his best pushing the pace in transition and running off screens for catch-and-shoot three-pointers. This leads me to believe he would be better suited for a matchup against a team that pushes the ball or likes to pick up the pace (i.e. Duke or Arizona).
A positive note on Pangos: He has risen to the occasion at times this season, sporting monster games in national TV tilts against major conference foes -- 33 pts vs. Wazzu, 27 pts. vs. St. Mary's, 18 pts. vs. BYU. Each one of those games came in the friendly confines of the Kennel, though.
Head Coach Mark Few's maddening penchant for poaching minutes from Pangos and GBJ and thrusting them the way of Baby Stocks has hurt the team's performance and, at times, hindered the team from establishing a strong rapport on the hardwood.
While that falls outside of Pangos' hands, Few did increase the Canadian's minutes over the course of conference play and KP has seen the court for the majority of each big game.
The difference between Pangos and Stockton goes way beyond numbers and stretches into intangibles and defensive acumen. Pangos has great court vision in transition and has the ability to carve up defenses when he gets in a zone, via a hot shooting stroke or nimble touch passing.
In order for Gonzaga to advance beyond the opening weekend of the Big Dance, Elias Harris and Robert Sacre must play up to their potential and be active within the offense. The Zags can not suffer through five-to-seven minute stretches that feature little-to-no cohesiveness on offense and numerous mind-boggling turnovers. Assuming they can get past a UConn (Lunardi's latest opponent for us in Bracketology) or Cincinnati (Andy Glockner's latest opening round opponent for us on CBSSportsline), turnovers would crush any potential for a major win over the likes of Duke, Missouri, or Georgetown, to name a few. To avoid all of these pitfalls, Pangos must contribute in the form of points, defense, smart ball-handling and entry passes to the posts, ensuring the Zags 35 strong minutes from the most important position on the floor.
Elias Harris may be the most talented player on this team and Gary Bell Jr. might just have the most potential, but the title of most important player goes to Kevin Pangos. Guard play has traditionally dictated tournament success, especially in the early rounds. The importance behind what version of the blossoming Canadian star shows up in the NCAA Tournament can not be understated and could be the deciding factor in determining whether Rob Sacre's wish to make this Gonzaga team different comes to fruition.
Let me know your thoughts on the freshman stud and how important you think he is to the team's success in the NCAA Tournament in the comments section.
-- Jordan Kuehne/@jordo99 (University of Missouri School of Journalism Student/Maneater Columnist)