Well, believe it or not Gonzaga fans, the basketball season has hit the quarter-post. In what has been a whirlwind start for the Zags, it is hard to imagine the 2008-09 season starting any better than it has. It doesn't feel like it was that along ago when we were dragging along in early November, talking about all the preseason accolades for the Bulldogs. Many wondered if the preseason rankings were warranted and, through seven games, it appears that the Zags have actually exceeded expectations.
Before the season started, a lot of Gonzaga's accolades were based on expectations. Here are a few of the major things we, and the rest of the nation, were watching when the season began and how they have shaken out so far:
- Can Josh Heytvelt be a dominant big man for this team? Through the first seven regular season games, it is hard to fathom a better way for Josh to come out of the blocks. Everyone knew that he was talented and everyone knew that Gonzaga was extremely deep but it still remained to be seen if he would be a solid post presence for the Zags. Well, I think we can officially say that Mr. Heytvelt is back and, barring injury or some unforeseen issue, he is the big man that could lead this team to greatness. He is leading this team in scoring with 16.3 points per game and is virtually tied for the rebounding lead with Austin Daye at around six rebounds a game. I expected Josh's rebounding line to be a little bit higher than the six that he has right now and that is a concern but this team has been shooting the ball so well this year that he has really not had a whole lot of opportunities on the offensive side. More than anything, we are seeing a very mature Josh Heytvelt. He has the killer instinct back but is also providing a great deal of leadership which we had never seen before. If this continues and Josh keeps playing excellent basketball, this team is capable of beating anyone in the nation.
- Is Austin Daye the most talented player on this team and can he take games over? This question still remains to be seen. Austin has shined at times and has looked inexperienced at times. No one can doubt the physical tools that Austin has. His length and skill set is a match up nightmare for any team in the nation. The one thing which Gonzaga fans are still dying to see is whether or not Austin is capable of taking over a game and putting this team on his back. His first four games were outstanding considering his summer workouts were put on hold due to a knee injury. His standout game thus far was the Maryland game. Daye was 7-11 from the field and had 17 points. He also added 10 rebounds to complete his double double performance. His play during the next two games against Tennessee and Indiana were below average, mostly due to foul problems. He came back and played well in the second half against Washington State and hopefully he realizes that he can't be stopped close to the basket because of his length. The major problems for Austin right now are his reliance on the three point shot and foul problems. If he can nip those problems before they get out of hand he will be fine, and I believe he will do so.
- Are Jeremy Pargo's professional basketball aspirations going to affect his play at Gonzaga? Jeremy Pargo has had his share of doubters and I am not innocent in this regard. I would be stunned if you could find a person that still doubts Pargo after his play so far this season. Jeremy has a future in professional basketball and many wondered if he would look for the shot more to bolster his NBA stock. He has not, in fact it has been quite the contrary. Jeremy is the catalyst of this offense and has really taken a pass-first approach. He is fifth on this team in scoring which is music to my ears because it means that our play makers are making plays. He is averaging nearly 8 assists a game which is two assists more per game than he had last year. His development at Gonzaga has been a gem to watch. Pargo went from the out of control guard to the definition of a pure point guard. It would be hard for me to take any other point guard in the country over him at this point. The great thing about Jeremy is that he has a sense for when he needs to make a bucket and it seems like he can at will. During rough parts of the game, Jeremy has made a drive or sank a big bucket that has led to a scoring run, much like we saw against Wazzu.
- How tough is Gonzaga? This has been the undying claim against Gonzaga in the past. Gonzaga can score, and everyone knows it. Many didn't believe this team could get stops and play tough against good competition. Let's look at how the Zags played against the two 'toughest' teams on this schedule thus far. Against Tennessee in the Old Spice finale, the Zags held the Vols to 36% shooting. They were assaulted on the glass but they had more assists, steals, and blocks. They also committed seven less turnovers against the Vols, who had 21. They frustrated Bruce Pearl's team to the point where a scuffle broke out at the end of the first half. They poured it on Tennessee and built up a huge lead that proved to be insurmountable. Against Washington State, Gonzaga was tested to play a style of basketball that they hate. Wazzu plays a brand of basketball that I usually fall asleep to. The Cougs stayed with the Zags in the first half but absolutely assaulted Washington State at the start of the second half. They began the second half with a 25-4 run and never looked back. The key for Gonzaga was their defense. Yes, the Cougs could not make a shot for the life of them but give some credit to Gonzaga. They held WSU to 33% shooting and forcing them to go 2-19 from the three point line. Oh yeah, they also had seven steals in the second half. Tough enough? I think so, but here are some stats to back it up. The Zags are 9th in defensive field goal percentage at 37.4% and that comes against the #2 RPI schedule in the whole nation. The Zags are tough, and really good.
continue reading after the jump for a statistical breakdown...
There you have it. Those are the major questions that we had for this team coming into the year and right now the answers are very favorable in the Zags direction. There is still plenty on the plate for Mark Few's ball club. Arizona is waiting in the wings on Sunday and Connecticut is right around the corner. It gets no easier after that as Gonzaga will be traveling to take on Utah and Tennessee before conference play. Don't forget the Memphis game in the middle of WCC play.
Here is a nice look at the statistical breakdown for the Zags where we stand right now:
As we have continued to preach, soak in these good times Gonzaga fans but the goal has not been reached quite yet. This is the fourth-ranked team in the nation and it appears that they are going nowhere but up. The first seven games have been storybook, hopefully the good times continue to roll.