The sky is the limit for Gary Bell Jr. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
While there is never a good way to recap an entire season, I can't help but think the phrase: "heading in a great direction" is that best way to do so. The Ohio State game was an incredibly tough loss but, in a tournament where matchups matter as much as performance, the Buckeyes were simply a bad one for the Bulldogs. Because of this, I don't think there are a whole lot of fans that would call this most recent NCAA Tournament appearance anything but a solid success. Taking down a solid, albeit down, West Virginia squad in the 'second' round was a nice accomplishment for this group and it rounded out what must be classified as as season in which the Zags exceeded expectations.
If you had to ask most Gonzaga fans to pinpoint why their is so much excitement for the future, I think most would point to the performance of their young guards. It wasn't so much that they were lights out in both games, but it was the fact that they were truly fearless throughout their first March experience. Against West Virginia, Kevin Pangos was in total control. He shot 5-7 from the floor, had five assists, two steals, and only one turnover. Against Ohio State he really struggled to find his shot but there has never been a point in the season when the Zags' freshman point guard was bashful and that continued into March. His freshmen counterpart may have had the most impressive tournament of any Zag. Gary Bell averaged 16 points in the tournament and he just screams potential to be one of the most complete guards in the history of the program. Already the best defender on the team, Bell's flashes of offensive excellence make even the most reserved fan drool. Both have work to do, however. Pangos' streaky play has really hindered this team from time to time and Bell has much room to improve as a ball handler. All that said, these two have simply made watching Gonzaga guard play fun again...
At this point, there is little need to discuss at length what happened against Ohio State. Truth be told, I have little issue with what happened against Ohio State. What I'd rather do is get ready for the offseason, which will be as long as ever given all this anticipation. While everyone is extremely excited, one can't discuss the season without mentioning what is lost with the graduating seniors. Robert Sacre and Marquise Carter will be missed. Rob is one of the most decorated low-post defenders in the country and what will be missed most is his on-court swagger and leadership he provided this team. Rob has been one of the most recognizable faces in the West Coast Conference and while his offensive production wasn't always what fans wanted, he was a great Zag. Marquise Carter had a difficult senior season. After coming off a huge end to his junior season, Carter took a backseat to the aforementioned freshmen and he never really settled in. At times, he looked like the star of last year but at other times, he really faded to the background and never made an impact. With that being said, I'll be sad to see Carter go. His style of play is one that I really enjoy watching because he's such a smooth and deliberate player on the court.
In my mind, Gonzaga's lack of a powerful wing threat was a major reason why they weren't a bigger player on the national scene. While Guy Landry Edi proved to be solid in certain games, it was very apparent that he simply needs more time. As a junior college and international star, Guy is used to playing more one-on-one basketball and not in a regimented scheme. While he adapted very well, I think a full summer in Spokane working with the staff will be huge for him. Guy's most immediate and incredible impact this season was defensively. He's a physical specimen that can run the court and pressure the quickest of guards. His athleticism is something that Gonzaga needs to nurture as there aren't a lot of players with his skill set in the country. Looking towards the future, it would be great to see the staff bring in another wing with an offensive focus. The guy that jumps out to me right away is Tacoma Community College prospect Mark McLaughlin. While his character is in question, his ability isn't. Mark Few has kept a very close eye on Mark and I think that if he has seen enough offensive ability out of him, he will pull the trigger. Since this is such a vital position, it isn't worth adding a body for the purpose of simply adding a body but I think Mark can be a very valuable addition.
What is going to be interesting is the interior rotation. From what Max and I can tell, Przemek Karnowski, a 7-footer from Poland is about a done deal for the Bulldogs. From most reports, Karnowski is the type of player that can make an instant impact as an offensive player and because he has such great size. Ryan Spangler really captured GU fans with his effort against West Virginia and of course, Kelly Olynyk is coming off a redshirt season. Most fans expect him to be a huge contributor next season. Oh, and I forgot to mention the two guys likely to start next season, Elias Harris and Sam Dower. Who redshirts, how the minutes come, where everyone plays...all these will be questions in the offseason but, make no mistake, this is a tremendous problem to have.
The staff still has a lot of work to do. We talk a lot about who they can bring in but, to date, no one is signed on the dotted line as far as we know. Getting some offensive help on the wing is a huge priority and adding a big body to help ease the loss of Rob also seems to be important. With guys like Harris, Bell, Pangos, Dower, Spangler, etc there is such a great core coming back and leads me to believe that this program is heading in a great, great direction.