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How will they respond? Zags vs. EWU

One of the marks of a great program is how it responds to adversity. After putting together one of the most embarrassing performances in Gonzaga history, this group will have an excellent opportunity to respond when they face the Eastern Washington Eagles on Monday night. Not only does this game give Gonzaga a chance to get back to its winning ways, but it will also hopefully provide some momentum heading into key resume building games against Oklahoma and Illinois. Just to make this game even more important is the fact that SSF official man-crush and key 2011 recruit, Gary Bell Jr. will be in attendance as his Kentridge team is in Spokane to compete in a high school tournament. After the Duke debacle, I would certainly expect Coach Few and the staff to have made some serious changes (more Bol and Manny; less GJ and Kelly), but the thing that I will be looking for most of all is a change in attitude and passion on the court. I want to see a response that shows that what happened against Duke is unacceptable and will serve as momentum and inspiration for what can still be a successful and memorable season.

I assume the gut reaction of many Gonzaga fans will be to compare this game to the match up against Portland St. last year. However, I don't agree with that comparison in any way. The loss to UConn last season was demoralizing because Gonzaga simply through away the win against a Final 4 team. Also, Portland St. was an NCAA Tournament caliber team and had tons of experience and success within the program. This season, Gonzaga will be coming off a performance in which they had no chance to win, and they will be playing against one of the worst teams in the Big Sky conference. EWU is 4-9 and is coming off back-to-back losses to Chicago St. and Jackson St., neither of which I consider to be among the elite teams in college basketball. The Eagles are led by the post duo of Mark Dunn and Brandon Moore. Dunn is the leading scorer for EWU, averaging 11.9 points per game. Moore is scoring 10.8 points and is averaging a team-high 7.7 boards. Glen Dean is an explosive freshman that has recently moved into the starting lineup and is averaging 9.8 points per game.

As has been the case with every mid-major team that Gonzaga has faced this season, the Bulldogs have an extreme size and skill advantage in the paint. However, instead of just feeding Rob and Elias in the post, I would like to see the Zags get both involved in the offense as passing bigs instead of as scorers. One of the huge issues that I have seen from Rob, and to a lesser extent Elias, is the fact that both are rattled when they are double-teamed on the offensive end. Instead of settling down and looking to see what the defense is offering, both Rob and Elias either jack up a quick shot or turn the ball over. Both guys are skilled enough on the offensive end to demand the double-team in the post, but right now they are not making the opposing team pay for this defensive strategy. While these type of things can be simulated in practice, it will be important to see how both guys respond in an actual game situation.

While I have a sense of what to expect from Matt and Elias, my main focus will be on what the rest of the rotation will bring to the table. As I have expressed before, I would like to see the rotation cut to 8 guys, with Manny, Bol, and Grant being the only guys seeing action off the bench. This team needs the athleticism and scoring ability that both Manny and Bol can provide, and it should also provide some sort of spark for Steven and Meech if they struggle. Behind a career performance from Bol Kong, I expect Gonzaga to pull away for the 82-59 win.