After Saturday's debacle at Madison Square Garden, many Gonzaga fans have suggested that they hope Mark Few and the squad forget about what happened. Sometimes in sports there is nothing better than having a short memory. However, in this case, the results of Saturday are just too "in your face" to be ignored. Another reason why they should not be ignored is because they are a culmination of a pretty bad month of basketball.
We harp on this all the time on the blog. December is typically Gonzaga's biggest month of the season. It can provide them with quality wins or it can make winning the West Coast Conference tournament an absolute must. It's usually the defining factor of Gonzaga's NCAA Tournament bid because it's probably the first place the committee looks after checking to see if Gonzaga won the WCC Tournament. Some years show that Gonzaga beat a couple of top-5 teams in a three game stretch, and some years show that Gonzaga lost to an underwhelming ACC team at home before getting housed by Duke in New York. The good news for Gonzaga is that the month, and their opportunity for quality wins is not over. With that being said, there isn't much time to figure out a solution for all the problems this team now has.
The last time I really felt genuinely good about a Gonzaga game was late November against Wisconsin. Sure, Gonzaga has had some nice games and wins since then. In particular, comeback wins over Cincinnati and Washington State. In that Wisconsin game, however, Gonzaga was physical, meticulous, and dominated a well-coached Badgers team. Since then, little issues have been popping up this month and the result boiled over into a 35 point loss on Saturday. Is there a quick fix to all these issues? No, but I think it is time for the staff to take a good hard look at this team and start making some tough decisions.
continue reading this post after the jump...The purpose of this post is not to lay out a practice schedule for Mark Few or to tell him what he should say to his team before they take the floor on the 28th. If you've watched Gonzaga basketball over the past few games, you probably already know what the issues I referred to in the intro are. Poor free throw shooting, failure to compete on the offensive glass, and a healthy knack for turnovers are all reasons why this team is struggling. Two of these issues can be classified as youth problems and the other seems to just be a desire issue.
The free-throw shooting has just been flat out horrendous. Only Matt Bouldin, Bol Kong, and Elias Harris are shooting a respectable percentage in my book. Elias' 74% is not bad when you consider that he is a freshman big man. I'm sure it could be much worse. Mangisto Arop and Grant Gibbs are both shooting sub-50% which is totally inexcusable. Both have small sample sizes but, when you are fighting for playing time, you've got to hit the easy ones. Steven Gray's 79% is sub-par for me because I expect more from him. He shot 83% as a freshman, 71% as a sophomore, and is now just below 80%. That freshman season as a whole is beginning to look like an aberration. There is really no quick fix for this problem besides practice and more reps for young players like Manny, Grant, etc. Composure is obviously an issue with them right now and that will take some time but I imagine that these stats will go up.
Do you realize that right now Robert Sacre's assist-to-turnover ratio is 1/21. That's not a typo unless the folks at ESPN decided to leave a decimal point out between the 2 and the 1. Upon further investigation, it's true. Rob has one assist this year in contrast with 21 turnovers. Just for comparison's sake, last year, Josh Heytvelt's ratio was 1/2. Turnovers aren't just a Rob issue though. Bol Kong has the best A/T ratio with three assists for every turnover. Manny Arop sits at 2/1. The fact that these two lead this category is scary enough but when you consider that Demetri Goodson sits at 1/1.4 and G.J. Vilarino sits at 1/2, it's downright petrifying. Matt Bouldin's at 1.3/1 and Grant Gibbs is at 1.2/1. Steven Gray, somehow, is at 1/1.1. Matt and Steven's numbers have to be higher because the offense goes through them. Demetri Goodson's assist to turnover ratio is terrible. Last year he had a nice ratio of 1.6/1 as he was fitting his role. This year I just feel like he is trying to hard and that is a big reason for his erratic play. He has to realize that his role on this team hasn't changed much from a year ago. He's the starting point guard but his only real job is to be smart with the basketball. I think every Gonzaga fan and Mark Few would say that assists are a plus at this point but turning the ball over is completely detrimental. Don't read too much into G.J. Vilarino's ratio. He only has one assists and two turnovers on the season.
Basically what I am hoping for right now from Mark Few is that he re-evaluates the way he has assembled this rotation and take a good, hard look at who is benefiting the team. After the game I said that it was time to tighten the screws on this team and put together a rotation capable of righting the ship. Looking at the stats I laid out earlier in the post, I feel like these guys need a course in role-definition. We have too many players on the bench that aren't sure when their minutes are coming and whether they'll even play on a day-to-day basis and at this level, that can't happen. There are teams that can get away with playing ten-deep but after Saturday, I don't think Gonzaga is one of them. Only eight players currently deserve to be playing regular minutes. The starting five, obviously, and a bench of Kong, Arop, and Gibbs.
I don't believe this because the other guys are bad players but because there has got to start being a type of consistency with this roster. Kelly and Will can be situational subs if Elias and Rob get in foul trouble. Bol should be first off the bench to spell Elias and take Gonzaga from an inside-out team to a team that can really stretch the court. Bol can become a match up nightmare if used correctly and everything he has done on the court screams that he needs more minutes. Mangisto Arop is the perfect substitute for the Gonzaga backcourt. I still do believe he should be starting right now but since I don't think that will happen, I'll live with him being second off the bench. Manny knows his role. He hits the boards, attacks when he has to, and works hard on the court. The role thing is what stands out the most. Unlike some of the other players on this team, Manny appears to get it. Grant's minutes are a result of a couple things. Unlike Manny, Grant is in the mold of Steven and Matt. He has a similar game to Matt and has the ability to pass the basketball. His A-T ratio is 2/1 and Gonzaga needs all the help they can get in that department. Grant, like Manny, also understands his role. Both players will continue to gain confidence as the year progresses and I think we'll see positive things from them offensively as they are already doing some of the little things.
Like I said, this is not meant to detract from Kelly, GJ, or Will. I think we've all seen Kelly and G.J.'s glimpses and Will has been adequate as a situational sub. KO and GJ both have bright futures but there time is not now. There will be games when they get extended minutes because of match up issues or fouls but, a majority of the time, I would love to see only the eight players I mentioned get the lions share of time on the floor. I still count about four-and-a-half more quality wins out there for Gonzaga. Illinois, Memphis, and two games with St. Mary's. I'll give the half to Oklahoma because I have no clue if they are going to get things together but I'm hoping so. For these games to turn out successfully, I think we'll need to stop guessing at who is going to play today and let players develop into their roles.