I expected to wake up Sunday morning a little more relaxed and a little more at ease with what I saw transpire on Saturday afternoon between Gonzaga and Illinois. Sleeping those kind of losses off is typically exactly what I need to clear my head and try to deliver some semblance of coherence on this site. All day Sunday, however, I tried to write something about this team to try and sum up Saturday and I simply couldn't. Where do you begin? Where does it end? Most games you can say "X went wrong but we did Y good so there is hope for the next few games". However, when your X is so large and your Y is so minuscule, the phrase does not work.
The title of this article may seem a bit over the top and intense but Gonzaga is walking wounded. What's worse is that they are wounded and about to hit to hit the road against two teams most of us expected wins against before the season. A little under a month into the season, however, it is remarkably clear that both Washington State and Notre Dame are playing better basketball than our beloved Zags. With a 4-3 record and these two teams coming up this week, you almost have to brace yourself as a Gonzaga fan for what could be on the horizon.If you merely saw the box score for the Gonzaga and Illinois game on Saturday, you know exactly what happened. A team that hits twelve three point baskets is rarely, if ever going to lose at this level. What's absurd about twelve three point baskets is that it was done mainly with little resistance from this team. Illinois hit shorts early, they hit shots late, and they hit shots often. Gonzaga was merely spectating. There wasn't an adjustment, there wasn't anyone stepping up and getting into anyone's face. It was complete apathy towards the defensive side of the ball. We can talk offense all you want. We can discuss our point guard situation and we can discuss our frontcourt but if the Zags allow 12 three pointers in a game in that fashion, there is no reason to discuss anything else.
Before the season began, I (and I believe Max, as well) were wondering if Gonzaga would show any type of defensive pressure this season. With Meech, Steven Gray, Manny Arop, Mathis M., and Mathis K., it seems pretty obvious you have some guys that can cover the court and play pressure defense. In Rob Sacre, Elias Harris, and Co., you have some bigs that can cover ground and contest, alter, and hopefully block shots.
My question is that in a game like that, where you are getting assaulted beyond the arc and apparently forgot to teach your players how to rotate and talk, why don't you apply some pressure and use the athletes you have?
I ask this question because I'm concerned about this team's understanding of what they have learned from the staff to this point. When you have players saying "We aren't communicating well defensively" or "We aren't playing team defense and rotating properly", I get a bit concerned as we are in early December and defensive rotation, communication etc are not things that I believe can be fixed in a few days before two very important games.
Ball pressure seems to be a good way to build momentum as a unit, get some guys flying around, and force some turnovers. It doesn't have to be full-court, forty minute a game pressure but I think, at the very base, the players and staff must attack Washington State and Notre Dame with the idea of setting a defensive tone early. The three point shot is the great equalizer in basketball and when you play good teams, it is the recipe for a rout.
The defensive performance on Saturday is something that can't be repeated or else we could very well be looking at a 4-5 team in less than a week with Baylor, Xavier, Oklahoma State, and others all licking their chops.