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Besides being a good news story and spurring online discussion, the possibility that GU will simultaneously play three bigs will accomplish an important intangible throughout the season: it will force opposition coaches to use valuable practice and game preparation time readying for it.
Like most who’ve posted here, I’ve got my concerns about playing a three big line-up. Quickness isn’t one of the adjective I’d use to describe Wiltjer, Karnowski or even Sabonis. Gonzaga's defense seems to have turned the corner on stopping the three, but one of the stupidest things they did last year was seemingly foul a three-point shooter every other game. I'd hate Wiltjer or Sabonis to be that guy fouling the three-point shooter because they arrive half a second late. In addition to the 30 second shot clock, another point of emphasis in this year's rule changes is strict enforcement of physical defense on the perimeter, especially against the dribbler. Sabonis is often too physical with a 250 pound center under the rim, so how many times do you think he'll be allowed to bump a 190 pound dribbling guard until a foul is called?
Speaking of last year, remember the players Gonzaga seemed to have the most trouble stopping? Stacy Davis, Kyle Collinsworth, North Dakota State’s Dexter Werner and Justise Winslow come to mind immediately. 6’6 quick guys (being generous to Werner) who penetrate the first line of defense and go straight at the bigs. Not only could Wiltjer and Sabonis pick up quick fouls trying to stop these guys on the perimeter, Karnowski and Edwards may draw fouls when the opponents get to the hoop. I just don’t see a way to make a three big defense work for long stretches during a game. The offense might be unstoppable but the defense could kill you giving up points and picking up fouls.
With that said, I, of course, could be completely wrong. Even if I'm not, I think the threat of playing three bigs still has substantial benefits. Here are three possible scenarios::
Scenario 1: The three bigs average 60 points per game and they become such an offensive juggernaut that defensive deficiencies don’t matter. Wiltjer and/or Sabonis have improved their quickness over the off-season and if and when they do get beat they can block or bother shots with their superior height.
Scenario 2: The three bigs spend five to 10 minutes a game playing together, just enough to make opposing coaches to lose sleep. You can't guard Karnowski, Sabonis or Wiltjer one on one, so you see tight zones clogging the middle. This is when the back court takes over; Perkins and McClellan can drive, dish, or finish while Melson and Alberts can rain threes Dranginis, well he can do both.
Scenario 3: Three bigs really doesn't work and Few sticks with a more traditional line-up. The bigs are on the floor simultaneously for less than five minutes a game, just enough to confuse the defense. Opposing coaches will still have to prepare for it and the players on the floor will have to adjust to it. It could provide the catalyst for one of big offensive runs that were so prevalent last year or even be the change of pace to break the opponents momentum.
So keep it going Mark Few, playing three bigs may be coaching genius or a seldom used gimmick, but either way it's going to make preparing for a game against GU even tougher. After years of having to go six and seven deep, you should be like the poor kid going to his rich cousin's house. So many toys, so many options.