Ever since the loss to BYU, I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out just exactly what to make of this Gonzaga team. In the past month, the Zags have been blown out of the gym in road games against both St. Mary's and BYU, arguably the two biggest challengers in the WCC. Despite having two upperclassmen starting in the paint, it's been two freshman guards that have been the most consistent and productive players on the team. The small forward position continues to be a revolving door with no player able to seize the position.
On the other hand, St. Mary's enters this game playing the best basketball on the West Coast. For some odd reason, many Gonzaga fans seem to have little faith in the quality of this Gaels team. People point out that St. Mary's played a weak non-conference schedule,which I tend to disagree with since Baylor, Northern Iowa and Denver University are all good teams. Instead, I believe that the reason people disregard this Gaels group is because there is no dominant personality and presence like Omar Samhan. Instead, this St. Mary's team has a bunch of really solid players that have come together to form a versatile and impressive team that has great guard play and a solid post rotation.So what should we make of the Zags chances against the Gaels on Thursday night? I don't think the talent gap is nearly as big as the performance of the two teams might indicate. Frankly, the tale of the two seasons comes down to the fact that Randy Bennett and his staff have done a much better job at identifying the players that should be in the rotation and then maximizing their potential. On the other hand, the Gonzaga coaching staff has struggled to establish any consistency and hasn't been willing to work through the mistakes of either Guy Landry-Edi or The Hoff to ensure that one of the two can develop into a rotation player. The issue with not settling down and giving either guy the bulk of the minutes is that it has prevented a starting five from developing a comfort level and a natural feel for playing with each other. How can Kevin Pangos know where The Hoff likes to catch the ball coming off the curl screen if he is only playing two or three minutes per game with him?
Unfortunately for Gonzaga, the Zags lack the length in the paint that could really give St. Mary's trouble. One area that Mark Few and his staff just don't seem to recruit is the athletic big that jumps like a pogo stick. The last guy that the staff really brought in with those intangibles was Kuso, who consistently made an impact in the paint. It's why the writers on this site pined for the staff to pursue Skylar Spencer. While Rob is big, he isn't mobile and doesn't do a great job bothering shots in the paint. Elias has great athleticism, but he isn't a shot-blocker and is actually better guarding a guy off the dribble then he is matching up in the paint. This is the reason that guys like Noah Harstock and Brad Waldow have had career games against the Zags this season.
In order for GU to stick in the race for a WCC title, it comes down to execution and, for lack of a better word, swagger. At no point this season have I seen a Gonzaga team step on the court and look like it was truly going to go out and dominate. In fact, I really haven't seen that from a Gonzaga team since the 08/09 season when guys like Pargo and Heytvelt were still on campus. There were glimpses of it at the end of last season when Marquise Carter was playing out of his mind, but with his struggles this season, that edge has disappeared. Gonzaga has been spoiled with players like Ronny Turiaf, Dan Dickau, Jeremy Pargo and Adam Morrison, who all stepped foot on the court believing they were going to get a win and playing with an attitude that reflected that confidence. This is a talented Gonzaga team, but that leadership and attitude is missing, and until it is found, this team won't reach its potential.
I'm going to leave the predictions up to you guys who choose to comment on this article, because more than anything, I want to see a Gonzaga team that believes it will win. I don't want to see a team that thinks it can win, but instead a team that knows it is talented and expects to dominate every time it steps on the court.