Wow. What an absolute whirlwind these past few Gonzaga games have been. We've had everything from broken backboards, furious comebacks, and an overtime thriller recently and luckily (for us) the result has been a pair of huge Zag wins.
After the loss to Duke in New York, the games against Oklahoma and Illinois rose to a new level of importance as they represented two really good chances at quality wins. The jury is still out on the Oklahoma Sooners and their prospects for a successful season but I think Gonzaga fans know that the overtime win over Illinois is going to look very nice come tourney time.
Gonzaga now has a nice break this week as we get ready for the beginning of West Coast Conference action. The Zags will hit the ground running with a huge road game at the University of Portland on Saturday. We'll have much more later on this week about that game and a look at the West Coast Conference slate. This team should be riding very high after the wins against Oklahoma and Illinois and that is huge because the opening stretch of WCC games will really decide who wins the regular season title. The game at Portland is followed quickly by a trip down to Moraga to take on St. Mary's. Smart money would say that GU, UP, and SMC will all be sitting atop the conference standings come March so it would be huge to get a leg up on both teams right out of the gates.
Continue reading after the jump to get a lot of Elias Harris praise, some poll prognostications, and much more...Most important player? I thought about writing a post based solely on how much Elias Harris means to this team and just how good he is but after the Illinois game, this should be a foregone conclusion. Ever since the conclusion of the game, I have had random flashbacks of the important events and I've yet to have one that hasn't included Elias. Whether it was a sweeping drive to the hoop finished off with great touch or an absolutely monstrous rejection late in the game, Elias made big play after big play to key Gonzaga's past two victories. I wrote in our brief postgame recap that there was no chance Elias was going to let his team lose. His 19 point, 16 rebound day was phenomenal and it was so fitting that he hit the game winning shot and followed it up with the game winning rebound. People are always hesitant to label certain players in certain ways but there's no doubt in my mind that, outside of maybe Bouldin, Elias is 100% indispensable when it comes to the success of this team. Especially when you complement the steady play of Elias with a nice performance from Rob like the one against Illinois, this Gonzaga team becomes very, very hard to stop. With NBA scouts drooling over the German transplant, it's easy to start speculating and wondering what the future holds but for some odd reason I have the suspicion that we'll be getting more of Elias into 2011. Call it a gut feeling or a homer call but the thought of Elias and Rob being joined by Sam Dower next year really blows my mind.
Steven was sensational late. I always like to go back and look at the play-by-play chart after each game just to refresh my memory so I don't have to deal with the whole Tivo/ESPN360 thing. Steven, as you all probably know, receives plenty of criticism from the Gonzaga fanbase, not just because we get frustrated with him but because we know how good he can be. Saturday against Illinois, however, he blew me away with his play in clutch moments. Upon re-entering the game at the 10 minute mark in the second half, Gray played nearly flawless basketball. He missed one three-point attempt and had a turnover but countered that with four assists, two delightful mid-range jumpers, and a pair of free-throws that extended the Gonzaga lead to three as time ran down. The assists were the difference in the game in my book. It was no secret that Rob Sacre and Elias Harris were having great games and playing with confidence and Steven fed them on three of his four assists. His fourth went to Matt Bouldin who proceeded to knock down a huge three-pointer. Matt and especially Steven are very rhythmic shooters. Gray really struggles when he's forced to pull up or has to rush his shot so it's great to see him making the extra pass when he's not comfortable rather than forcing a bad shot. Gray's twenty points were quiet but his impact on the game was just as strong as Elias'
Figuring out the polls. I was a bit stunned last week when Gonzaga dropped out of the AP poll but I don't think that will be a problem at all now. With two marquee games that a chunk of the nation saw (or at least heard about), I expect the Zags to make a serious jump in the polls when they are released later today. Teams like Texas Tech, UAB, Northwestern, Clemson, and Washington all lost this week and I'd imagine they'll all be behind Gonzaga. If I had to guess, and I might as well try, I'd wager we are around 20 in the AP and somewhere in the 16 range in the Coaches Poll.
Recruting updates. If you still had California guard Jordin Mayes on your wishlist for Gonzaga, you can probably go ahead and cross him off. According to a recent Scout.com article, Mayes has three offers from Arizona, Boston College, and San Diego State and is hearing from Oregon and Nevada. Looking further ahead into the future, you'll really want to start following Oregon's Jordan Tebbutt. The 6'3'' shooting guard is reportedly hearing from a number of schools already according to Rivals.com and I expect Jordan to have his pick of the litter when its all said and done. He is receiving interest from Gonzaga at this point and I'd bet that an offer will be coming sooner or later. According to Jordan's father he is looking for a school with a solid coaching staff that can help develop him for the next level.
Personally, I'm still hoping Gonzaga is able to grab LaBradford Franklin as the lone member of our 2010 recruiting class. Franklin is an excellent scoring point guard from California that would be a nice contrast to guys like Meech and G.J. I'm still pretty clueless as to whether Mark Few will pull the trigger in 2010 or wait but I'm praying for the former.