The Slipper Still Fits has been reading prominent college basketball writers for many years and their are few writers better than Luke Winn from Sports Illustrated. We were lucky enough to get in contact with Mr. Winn and ask him a few questions about Gonzaga basketball this season. We hope you enjoy this interview with him. It won't be the last time we have an interview with a prominent writer from across the nation. Enjoy!
The Slipper Still Fits: The improved play of Jeremy Pargo has been one of the most important aspects of Gonzaga's early season success. Where have you seen the greatest improvement in his game? Where would you rank him among the top PG's in the country?
Luke Winn: I think Pargo -- and the whole team, for that matter -- is being far more patient this year on offense. Instead of going for what Mark Few calls "hero" plays early in the shot clock, or on the end of a fast break, they're moving the ball around and ending up with much better looks. Pargo's assist to turnover ratio has shot way up as a result (from 1.4-to-1 last year to 4.3-to-1 this year). So the area of his greatest improvement, I would say, is as a decision-maker.
As for Pargo's national rank as a PG, there are still four guys I'd take in front of him: Davidson's Steph Curry (who's being called a point guard this year), UNC's Ty Lawson (the best all-around point in the country), UCLA's Darren Collison (can defend and shoot the three), and Syracuse's Jonny Flynn (who's a little faster than Pargo, and a little better scorer). Pargo's among the best of the second tier, but I still don't see him as a first-rounder in the next NBA draft.
TSSF: Gonzaga has long had the perception as a "finesse" and "soft" basketball team. What do you think are the main factors behind the increased toughness this particular team seems to be demonstrating?
LW: The switch away from being a finesse team actually began last year, when the Zags finished in the top 35 in defensive efficiency, and this year the toughness has really taken hold. I'll give you four reasons for the change in identity:
1) Adam Morrison and Derek Raivio (their all-offense, no-defense stars) are two years removed from the lineup, and the defense has gotten used to playing 5-on-5 instead of 3-on-5.
2) Few and his staff have been emphasizing D a lot more in practice, and he has two defensive-minded assistants in Ray Giacoletti and Leon Rice.
3) There's great length at almost every position, particularly with Micah Downs (6-8), Matt Bouldin (6-5) and Steven Gray (6-5) on the perimeter, and three guys 6-11 or taller in the forward rotation.
4) Demetri Goodson coming off the bench to relieve Pargo and pester opposing point guards. Every coach and player I interviewed brought up Goodson's name when they were asked to explain why the defense had improved.
TSSF: The future of Mark Few is a popular topic nearly every off season. Do you see any job opening that Mark Few would leave Spokane for, and if so, why?
LW: Maybe Arizona, if it ponied up enough money to make Few one of the highest-paid coaches in the nation. Recruiting there would be easy, and he could probably live as comfortably in Tucson as he does in Spokane. But I don't think Few is going to leave. If he loves Spokane, he has the Zags in the NCAA tournament every year, and he's able to recruit (or produce) NBA-level players already, what's the point of switching jobs?
TSSF: With the PAC-10 facing a down season, do you feel that Gonzaga has the talent and the schedule to be considered for a #1 seed in the West come March?
LW: It's not just the Pac-10 that's down. The Big Ten doesn't have a real shot at a No. 1 seed either, which leaves the pool for No. 1 seeds limited to Oklahoma, Texas, North Carolina, Duke, Tennessee and the Big East. (I think I've got them all there.) The Zags could earn a No. 1, but they'd probably have to beat UConn in Seattle for a real statement win, and then go through the West Coast Conference with no more than one loss.
TSSF: What do you think it will take for this team to break through and make the Final Four? Do you think this team has the depth and talent to compete with and challenge North Carolina?
LW: Gonzaga doesn't have talent or depth to match UNC. But that's fine, because no one else vying for the other three Final Four spots does either. My main worries about the Zags as a Final Four team is with their rebounding; they were murdered on the boards by Tennessee, and they don't seem to create many second looks on the offensive glass. I'd like to see Heytvelt pull down more than six rebounds a game, since he's their only true post player in the top seven of the rotation. If the glasswork comes around, they'll really be dangerous.