As we speak, the West Coast Conference is probably finalizing its conference slate for 2009-10, Mark Few is probably scheduling official visits for recruits, and, believe it or not, we are a little over two months away from some serious basketball discussion. Lately, it has become pretty clear that I have never been so nervous/anxious/excited for a season to start in the history of my Gonzaga basketball fandom. The excitement obviously stems from the youth movement that will be going on in Spokane and that also begs another question that I have been thinking a lot about lately and that is regarding the start of the season. In year's past and especially last year, Mark Few has scheduled insanely difficult nonconference schedules but has seen his teams start out pretty well and last year they could have wound up as the #1 team in the nation had it not been for the month that was December '08. This year, the schedule is just as difficult and I can't wait to see how this team starts. I have a few thoughts on the topic but would love to hear your opinions on the subject.
So for the purpose of writing this piece I'm going to have it my way and assume that Kelly Olynyk is redshirting this season and that the Michigan State game is going to take place in November. What this means is that Gonzaga will likely have games versus Michigan State, Colorado, Arizona/Wisconsin, and then one of Vanderbilt/Cincinnati/Maryland in the month of November. Right around the corner in early December are games against Washington State and Wake Forest but the beautiful thing is that both these games will be played at the friendly confines of the MAC. Our great new member zags430 pointed out that it looks like Duke/Gonzaga will take place December 19th but hopefully by that time, this team is running at full force.
continue reading after the jump to see the keys to a quick Gonzaga start...
There are obviously a couple ways this season could start. It's hard to expect this team to start out the season without any major hiccup. Although their are six brand new players coming to Spokane this season, only two have been on campus during the summer so the chemistry level between the rest of the players will only have two months to develop. I think we have all seen that the talent level is there with the 2009 class. What Gonzaga will need is an upperclassman to grab the reins and become the dominant leader or else all this new talent will struggle to produce results. Matt Bouldin is kind of the de facto leader and the face of the program but I feel like the presence of Rob Sacre on the court will mean just as much to this team. Even in his freshman year, Sacre was a vocal leader. He started games and really gave the team a lot of direction on the floor. I may not remember what he is like as a player on the court, but I remember him directing traffic as a freshman. If he can stay healthy and be a strong, vocal presence in the middle, I think that it will have as much emotional effect on this team as it will actually on the court in terms of production.
Along with some solid leadership by the upperclassmen, a great deal of the weight lies on the shoulders of the incoming players, whether that is fair or not. What hopefully eases the growing pains early on in the season is that guys like Bol Kong and Elias Harris have been playing against more mature competition, Bol and a junior college and Elias in German professional leagues. The player that I may have been worried most about next year as far as immediate production was Mangisto Arop and he just finished up an absolutely remarkable summer making me believe that he could start right away for Gonzaga. While they will struggle to adjust to the American style of play as far as turnovers and just general fundamentals go, I think Mark Few can utilize the new guys in a way so that they all can play and contribute immediately. The beautiful thing is that all the new recruits play excellent defense and that will go a very long way in easing what should be a very difficult schedule. There's no doubt that Gonzaga has plenty of guys that can score, especially in the backcourt, but the added defensive intensity should really change the attitude of this team. And the length of guys like Kong, Arop, and Dower will absolutely devour opposing offenses.
So I should have named this post "Zach going on and on about the new recruits part 74" but I think I can tie it all back in to how Gonzaga should start. The more and more I think about the combination of a solid returning group plus the new athletic recruiting class, it is hard for me to imagine this team not shocking some people right off the bat. If the rumors are true about Michigan State being in November, I think that the Spartans have a whole lot to be nervous about. Demetri Goodson should be a hell of a match up for Kalin Lucas and Michigan State doesn't have much in the middle so Rob Sacre could get off to a quick start. State is loaded everywhere else with guys like Durrell Summers, Raymar Morgan (who has been there for about 13 years), and Delvon Roe but, for the first time in a long time, I feel like Gonzaga can match their athletes straight up. I'm not saying that I would bet the farm on Gonzaga but...watch out Sparty!