I know, I know, it's not about who starts the game, it's about who finishes the game but face the facts, the starting lineup does matter. Especially when you are Gonzaga. In losses this season, the opposition has often times gotten out on major runs to start the game. Arizona was up 6-0, Connecticut was up 13-5, Portland State was up 12-6, and Utah was up 14-5 on the Zags to start the game. This is a major disadvantage for a team that has been very inefficient shooting the three point shot. To their credit, in each of these games, Gonzaga was able to crawl their way back into it only to wind up losing at the end.
There's no doubt in my mind that Jeremy Pargo, Austin Daye, and Josh Heytvelt have to be on the court to start games. That leaves Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray, and Micah Downs as the three players fighting for two starting spots. I've heard arguments every which way for each of these guys so I just thought it was about time to make their case for a starting spot as we head into WCC play.
read the cases for each player to start after the jump...
In order to view a great comparison of the three players head to head, visit this link on StatSheet.com. It's pretty clear that they all excel in different areas, especially Downs.
The Case for Micah Downs: It is hard to keep a kid like Micah on the bench to start a game. Micah came in with tons of hype. People thought he would be a lights out scorer and someone that could possibly be this team's best overall player. At Gonzaga, Micah has more or less accepted the role of defensive stopper and role player. Aside from a few scoring outbursts, he hasn't really shown the desire to take over a game and score 20+ points. Micah has shown the desire to do all of the little things. He has been a huge reason why Gonzaga is one of the best teams in the nation in terms of opposing field goal percentage. Another reason why Micah should be a starter is because of his physical tools and how that can affect a game. Micah's length and athleticism are two things that can really help this team. Rebounding has been a huge flaw for Gonzaga this season and if you take Micah out of the starting lineup, I can almost guarantee you that the number of offensive rebounds against the Zags is going to go up. The handling of Micah by Coach Few has always been a bit strange. Few and Downs have had issues in the past and it seems like, out of any player on the team, Few has the quickest hook with Downs. One bad shot and he is typically out. This has led to many people asking 'Where's Micah' in the second half. He is also battling some injuries, whether it is his back or his ankle.
The Case for Matt Bouldin: My main goal when I woke up this morning was to post about Bouldin in big games. I even made a pretty sweet data table. You can view that here if you wish. Believe it or not, Matt has been good in big games before Tennessee. Has he been consistent enough? Probably not, but please stop saying he always sucks in big games. It's just not a correct statement. Matt Bouldin can be the best player on the court for Gonzaga if the moon strikes him. Much like Micah Downs, Matt is a rhythm guy. If he hits a few shots early and gets a few back screens for easy lay ins, Matt could go off and score 20. This is why I always think we should have a backdoor cut for Matt early in the game because it will get his confidence high. Matt brings a lot to the table. He is very good at posting up smaller guards, even though he does it less and less. He is able to drive to the hoop and draw fouls because of his strength. He also has a very good mid-range game. Matt has also benefited from a summer in Spokane and has seen his defensive skills soar. He has 23 steals on the year which is about two a game. The major knock on Matt is that if he does not get off to a good start, he goes into a tailspin. The Memphis game from a season ago still sits pretty vividly in my brain. Matt's worst stat lines are usually around 2-9 shooting with 4 turnovers and one assist. For a player with as much skills as Matt, the inconsistency is hard to swallow. There have been numerous comments on the blog that have said that Matt would be better on the bench but I think we all know that out of these three players, Matt's spot as a starter is by far the safest.
The Case for Steven Gray: By the time his career is over at Gonzaga, I think that Steven Gray has the chance to be one of the all-time greats. During the Gonzaga-Tennesee game, Jay Bilas made a comment that went something like this.
"I think that Steven Gray may be the most complete player on this Gonzaga team. He has such a laid back attitude, however, that I don't think he realizes just how good he actually can be."
This is a spot on assessment of Steven Gray as a player. When he shows the determination to take over a game (UConn) there is not a team that can stop him. Steven's three-point shooting has really not been good this season. In fact, he's shooting the most threes out of this group and is making them at the worst percentage. Steven, much like Matt, has shown the ability to get the hoop and make plays. Steven has been better than Matt at finishing off these plays as well. Matt has missed a number of easy lay ins this season but Steven seems to get more calm as he gets close to the basket and anticipates contact very well. Another great thing about Steven is that he does not turn the ball over very much. He only has 11 turnovers on the season and has the best Assist to Turnover ratio of the three. All of these stats emulate the kind of player Steven is on the court. We rarely see any major outpouring of emotion and he is about as calm and collected on the court as any player I have seen. At the start of the year, he was kind of just floating around and never really made any severe impact on a game. This quickly changed during the Connecticut game where Steven put this team on his back. Steven made a tough transition back to the bench after starting a lot of the season a year ago. I believe that this affected his play at the beginning of the season. He is one of the purest shooters I have seen in my life and I don't think you can let him stew on the bench and get cold.
Well, those are my arguments for these three players and whether or not they should start. Feel free to throw in your own arguments as well. We'd love to hear them. I know some are probably going to complain about the starting lineup not mattering but with the type of starts this team has gotten off to...it really does.