Saturday night's loss to San Francisco ended a streak that I find to be truly remarkable. Not since 2000, Mark Few's first year, had Gonzaga lost back-to-back conference games. Gonzaga's dominance in the West Coast Conference has been well documented but to not lose back-to-back conference games in a little over a decade really adds a little more color to just how good it has been in Spokane.
Now, about that loss on Saturday. First of all, it was one of the more fascinating games I've seen in a long time. At moments I wanted to pull my hair out, at moments I was screaming in euphoria, and there was quite a bit of cursing interlaced in the entire experience. It was truly an exhausting game, even for the fans. Thinking ahead to Thursday, you have to wonder what kind of impact the Bay Area road swing will have on this team. There is no doubt in my mind that we will see some type of emotional hangover. You don't win nine in a row, get back in the national picture, and then fall flat on your face in two games where you are the heavy favorite and not feel some type of backlash. There's no telling what that hangover will entail but I would love to be a fly on the wall leading up to Thursday.
Like I said, Saturday night's game left no shortage of storylines. The most prevailing storyline is the brutally honest fact that this team is in trouble. As I sat around on Sunday stewing over the loss, I tried to piece together what we thought before the season and where this team is at now that we are in late January. Those that want to call it purely and simply being overhyped, that's fine. After the jump, I'll discuss where things break down with a specific emphasis on a group of players.
The sophomore jump hasn't happened: Before the season, I could not have been more excited to see the development of Gonzaga's talented freshman trio. Before succumbing to a foot injury last year, Mangisto Arop was playing great basketball and was instilling hope that he was going to be a three year starter. Kelly Olynyk showed flashes and had a great summer in International play. Elias Harris was a first round lock in the NBA Draft whenever he decided to come out after a huge freshman year. In my eyes, these three have failed to make any significant jumps from their freshman to sophomore seasons.
Kelly Olynyk's seven points per game probably represents the biggest jump of this group (4 ppg as a freshman). Manny Arop is playing about seven more minutes a game this season compared to last and is has only added a bucket a game to his stat line. He's shown some flashes but hasn't been in double figures since early December and since the Oklahoma State game, Manny has largely been invisible on the court. I know he's still a bit raw offensively but he displays a nice stroke and he's just missing that aggressive element I was hoping to see. Manny is obviously a fan favorite and works his butt off, I just hope we can see that talent on a more consistent basis or else I truly believe his minutes will dwindle quickly. Elias Harris' struggles have been well documented and to be honest, I can't figure this one out. He just looks like he's hit a wall in so many games. He's consistently slow on defense, he tries to rely on his athleticism on the boards rather than box out and he's been settling for long range jumpers far too often. There are a number of theories out there; maybe it's lingering injury effects, maybe he can't adapt to a gameplan soley on him, or maybe he's just out of shape. I'm still trying to figure this one out.
This freshman to sophomore jump is so vital because the entire offseason we discussed how this team would replace Matt Bouldin. Obviously Rob, Steve, and the rest of the vets were vital but these three were really being relied on to step up and fill in for Matt's lost value. To this point, slump seems to better describe their collective seasons rather than the J word we were all hoping for.
- I'm having a hard time calling Mark Few's rotation anything but arbitrary. Like most of us on the site, Few seems to be grasping at straws for anything that works. On Saturday, 11 guys played seven minutes or more. Sam Dower made an appearance and looked smooth offensively as he has for most of the year. And, similarly to the rest of the year, his night ended early and abruptly. Usually teams get into a flow and minutes start to become consistent but this team is consistently re-inventing the wheel in terms. Does this inconsistency translate to the inconsistency we have seen on the court?
- The officiating sucked but the defensive play was worse. I was amazed how often Gonzaga's perimeter defenders were beaten off the dribble. The one that sticks in my head is Mathis Monninghoff's late foul which gave USF the and-one. Looking at it in slow-motion, it clearly wasn't a foul but when you try and contest a shot while chasing someone, more often than not the ref is going to make that call based on perception alone. Santa Clara had similar luck driving the ball from time to time and this trend really needs to come to a halt before Thursday.
- Lastly, I can't thank the scheduling gods enough that Gonzaga v. SMC round #1 is in Spokane. A battered and bruised Gonzaga team needs some home cooking more than anything else right now. A trip into Moraga after the past two games would, without a doubt, be a bloodbath.