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The Morning After: Thoughts on Gonzaga-Michigan State

How much fun was that last night?  As I wrote that postgame reaction piece after the game, I knew I would have to write a more concise wrap up this morning as I could barely think clearly after Michigan State outlasted Gonzaga 75-71.  After re-watching the game this morning and thinking about a few things, there are definitely some aspects of last night's contest that many Gonzaga fans will emotionally overlook or they will settle for a quick glance at the box score and make their judgments and move on.  It can't be emphasized enough how much we, as fans, will have to change our perceptions of how this team is built and last night's game showcased all of those changes.

I tried to write down a few things I noticed while re-watching the game and develop them into some broad themes to make this as readable as possible.  Here are a few of these ideas, please don't hesitate to share what you saw and I really urge you to watch the game again on

--- First, Demetri Goodson and GJ Vilarino will rarely have flashy and dominant stat lines this season.  This is the first thing that I noticed after watching the game again this morning.  In year's past, Mark Few has put the game in Jeremy Pargo's hands.  Pargo was often the first one to penetrate into the defense in half court sets and that is why Gonzaga became such a good team for the "kick out" shot.  This season, in half court sets, you will RARELY see our point guards drive past the three-point line.  Honestly, once Meech and GJ pass the half court line they are already looking for Matt or Steven and those are the two that Coach Few wants this offense to run through and that makes sense.  What this means is that Goodson and Vilarino will get their points in transition.  Both are absolute speedsters that go along very well with the more slow and deliberate tempo of Matt and Steven.  Through two games, it is very clear to see why Mark Few jumped at the opportunity to sign GJ.  Not only is he a great fit with what he wants his point guard to be, but his poise in that first game was truly remarkable. 

Both players will get a lot of heat after games I'm sure.  Their will be games where they only combine for four or five assists, or one (which I think is a false stat) like last night.  Especially in games like last night, against slow-tempo big ten teams, Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray will be responsible for facilitating the offense.  This is why they combined for eight assists in comparison to Meech and GJ's one.  It's going to drive you crazy when you look at the box scores...but keep that in mind.

--- The idea of big men that want to play in the post and battle is so refreshing.  I don't want to take any unnecessary swipes on last year's big men for Gonzaga but the guys on this season's front line are tough as nails.  They don't float the perimeter looking for threes, they don't take Tim Duncan mid-range turnarounds, they just back you down and challenge you to outwork them.  I thought last night's interior play was the most sound play I've seen since JP Batista's senior season.  The scary thing is that Rob is a sophomore and Elias and Kelly are freshmen.  Michigan State isn't a bunch of slouches; they had some wide loads in the paint but once Sacre or Harris got the ball in the blocks, I had no doubt they were going to win the battle.  Sure, the shots wouldn't fall all the time but more often than not, they put up good, high percentage shots.  Here's a few more thoughts on the bigs last night

Elias Harris is as good on defense is as good as he is on offense.  In the first ten minutes, Elias' defense was outstanding.  He was aggressive and physical and you could tell that he was not at all scared of the name on the jersey.  He had three tremendous steals and, for the most part, played smart defense.  A few teams here and there he let his hands drop down and that drew fouls but overall, his defense was absolutely fantastic.

Rob Sacre is still young and learning.  Rob picked up his first foul pretty quickly in the game and that was by far his worst play of the night.  As Kalin Lucas (I think) drove to the hoop, Rob was attempting to close off to the hoop and just slid right into him as Lucas was looking to dribble by under the basket.  It was an easy foul to call on Rob and his foul issues kind of snowballed from there.  He'll learn to "make his fouls count" as he continues to get game experience.  His inexperience also showed late in the game.  He had a couple of nice opportunities in the paint with less than five minutes to go and missed on both attempts.  It was pretty clear that he may have let the emotions get to him and rushed his shot but like I said, for his first real effort in that hostile of a crowd, there aren't many negatives about Rob's effort.  

continue reading after the jump for a couple more thoughts...

--- (Over)Analyzing Matt and Steven's performance last night.  If you were with us for our game thread last night, there was a lot of frustration in regards to the play of Gonzaga's two veteran guards.  Re-watching the tape, there were definitely multiple instances where they each looked like freshmen in their own regards.  At the same time, I think there are two things that shouldn't go unnoticed about Steven and Matt.  First of all, aside from Meech, Steven played the best defense of the night.  Accumulating three blocked shots and a beautiful steal on an attempted backcut, Steven flew around the court and he left me little doubt where his effort was.  He's Gonzaga's best option against a lights out scorer because he understands how to follow his man around the court.  Michigan State utilized some great perimeter screens but for the most part, Steven always got a hand in his man's face.  I was thrilled with his effort after watching the game.  The good thing that Matt did last night was that he was the point guard in half court sets.  Before scoring his first points, Matt had already made beautiful assists to Rob, Will, Elias, and Kelly.  His pass to Rob was a half-court strike right in between his numbers and his dish to Will was a great penetration move and dump off that made it easy for Will to take it right up with no delay.  

I really hope watching this film makes Matt realize that he doesn't have to force shots.  A couple times in transition and early in the shot clock he would take a three or penetrate the lane with no backside post that left him dead to rights.  I've never really thought of Matt as being a "star" in college basketball and I think his greatest asset is making great passes to the post men and making big shots when the team needs him because he has to be the leader. 

--- This is the rotation.  After the Mississippi Valley State game, there were a lot of rumors and thoughts about the absence of Andy Poling and the few minutes of Manny Arop and Grant Gibbs.  I think after last night, however, there is no doubt about where Mark Few wants to play his guys.  Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris will spell eachother all season long and I think they've both shown why Mark Few has great confidence in them.  Harris for obvious reasons and Kelly just because he works his butt off on defense and has great basketball sense.  The refs called at least two awful fouls on him and he'll learn to maybe hold it back a little bit on the road.  If that game is at K2, Kelly would not have been in foul trouble.  Elias and Kelly's arrival mean that Andy Poling is on the outside looking in.  All summer long we heard about Andy's great redshirt year but it is just apparent that he might not be the complete player Mark Few envisioned.  With four guys ahead of him in the big man rotation (Rob, Elias, Kelly, and Will), don't expect Andy to get more than five minutes a game all year unless it is garbage time.

Another guy that was noticeably absent was Grant Gibbs.  Gibbs, who has been injury prone since arriving at GU, is fully healthy and impressed in his first game action against MVSU.  Last night he didn't get off the bench and while that disappointed me, I'm not terribly surprised.  In such a big early season game, Mark Few had to go with his veterans.  Matt and Steven played 39 and 38 minutes, respectively and there was little time for Grant to come in considering he is their backup.  The arrival of Manny Arop and GJ Vilarino also means that Grant is in a dogfight for minutes.  It's clear that GJ is the guy backing up Meech and that Manny's overall ceiling is very high.  This could be another case where a redshirt frosh struggles to get in the game.  When Bol turns it all around, and I think it is only a matter of time, that is just another talented wing with loads of potential and instant offense.