Excitement about the upcoming season has centered on the new acquisitions, who will start at the "3", and who will redshirt. Will Wiltjer pull an Olynyk and go from good to first team All-American? Can Perkins, Melson and/or Sabonis contribute immediately or even become stars? Will Karno breakout and be good enough to declare for the draft at the end of the year? Is Coleman leaving, Wesley coming? Can Nunez learn the offense, play within the flow of the game and maybe even get an assist? GU has enough talent to stay in the top 25 all next year, but to make it into the top 10 with a deep run in March it will be up to the play of Bell and Pangos.
Incredible as it is to say about two 3-year starters, it seems neither Gary nor Kevin has ever played a season to their full potential. When last season began, it looked like all GU fans hopes would come to fruition and we would have one of the best guard combinations in the country. After two years as almost exclusively jump shooters, Kevin and Gary both expanded their games to include strong drives to the hole and feathery floaters in the lane. Just as things were looking brightest, injuries stifled Bell and slowed Pangos. While each player would show flashes of brilliance during the last two-thirds of the season, more often than not fans were resigned to yelling "get your s**t together" at our television screens.
It’s easy to forget how good Pangos was early last season. During a five game stretch, he dropped 21, 27, 27 and 18 culminating with 34 against Arkansas. Then came "turf toe" followed by a sprained ankle. Think about the tens of thousands of jump shots Pangos has taken over the last dozen years. All that muscle memory developing a consistent motion; planting your feet the same way, attaining the same height at release. With those considerations, Pangos can be forgiven for never coming close to attaining the same scoring prowess or shooting percentage he demonstrated early in the season. What he did demonstrate was incredible heart, courage, and the willingness to subjugate his offensive game for the good of the team.
Even if Pango is healthy all of next season and as gutsy as he is, there is still the problem of consistency. Always a streaky shooter, he would go 7 for 8 in one game and 1 for 8 the next, but inexplicably, Pangos’ 1-8 performances seem to come on the road at an alarming rate. I would never want Pangos to be uncomfortable jacking up a 3 anytime, anywhere; but damn it Kevin, any chance you could shot only 5-8% worse on the road vs. your current 15+%. If GU wants to win at UCLA, Arizona, or a neutral site NCAA tourney game the team is going to need your offensive output.
When last season began, GBJ scored in double figures in 10 of the first 11 games, including 24 against Colorado State and 20 against Southern Alabama. After missing 6 games with a broken hand, it took him a while to get going again. He had solid performances in 4 of the last 5 games and looked capable of putting the team, at least partially, on his shoulders and carrying them. Unfortunately, Gary often disappears in big non-conference games, especially those with athletic guards. Against K-State, GBJ was 1-7 with 3 points. Against Memphis, he was 1-5 with 3 points and against Arizona, 0-5 with "0" points. Last year, he was 0 for 1 against Butler and 0 for 2 against Wichita State and didn’t score in either game.
I’m not sure what Adam Morrison’s status will be with the team next year, but teaching GBJ some of his fearlessness is sorely needed. Morrison never backed down from anyone and never met a shot he didn’t like. GBJ is just too damn good to disappear when things aren’t going his way or when the competition gets tough. I know it’s the curse of playing 20 games against WCC competition, you are physically more gifted than your competition and the shots come easy. Damn it Gary, you need to keep that same "war-club carrying, baddest man in the Valley of Death" attitude you have against LMU and Pepperdine when you play UCLA and Arizona.
Pangos’ road woes and Bell shrinking against tough schools are the reason the vocation of sports psychology exist, but I don’t think either player needs couch time. Pangos has had some great games away from the Kennel (34 against Arkansas, 23 at OSU). Bell has stepped up with 17 against OK state and 20 against Delly at SMC. It seems to be a matter of confidence, consistency and leadership.
As seniors, they will be the engines driving the machine. Dower made substantial improvements in his game for his final year and was the team’s most consistent player. For all of David Stockton’s faults, there were three games last year where he was the difference and carried the team to victory. As cliché as it sounds, this is the year Pangos and Bell will be counted on to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat. Both have more than enough talent and both are more than capable. Like the captain from Cool Hand Luke said, "they just got to get their minds right."
From what I’ve been reading, most fans believe Wiltjer will be just as good if not better than Dower. As good (or as bad) as Stockton was, most believe Perkins will immediately be able to more than fill his role. It’s not unreasonable to expect a better, more confident Dranginis. A stronger, smoother Karnowski is a scary thought with a 6’11’" European pro coming off the bench to spell him and Wiltjer. Just think if the one of the country’s best guard combinations could be added to that equation. It’s your year Kevin and Gary, here’s hoping you make the most of it……………….. and here’s to your continued health.