The Gonzaga Bulldogs finally get a bit of rest for the holiday break. So far, it is has been an up and down season.
There were a lot of unknowns entering this season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. were no longer the starting guards. Instead, a bunch of newcomers were the new faces of the Gonzaga backcourt. The front court was named the best in the country, but then an injury to Przemek Karnowski reduced it to one of the better in the country.
There have been some satisfying wins, and there have been some frustrating losses. But through it all, the Zags sit 10-3, with three close losses to three very good teams.
In the first entry of this series, we will take a look at the players one by one, culminating with the team at the very end. No one likes to get off on the wrong foot, so we'll be looking at the best player on this team today: Domantas Sabonis.
Grade: Whatever is better than an A+
There isn't enough that can be said about how fantastic Sabonis play has been this season, especially in light of the Karnowski injury. Coming into the year, all of the hype was on Kyle Witljer, and rightfully so. Wiltjer, as the senior, was the face of the team, the guy who was going to score 20+ points per game and end up winning at least first-team All-American.
But the ceiling for Sabonis was always higher. Not to say that Wiltjer is at his peak, but we knew what to expect for Wiltjer. We didn't necessarily know how good Sabonis could be. We always saw glimpses of it his freshman season, but like all freshman, Sabonis had his struggles--often times manifested by foul trouble.
Ever since Karnowski went down with his back injury, Sabonis has emerged as the dominant center for the Bulldogs, and so far, no team has had a way to stop him. After averaging 9.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season, Sabonis is now averaging 17.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.
To put that into context, if Sabonis were to play 40 minutes, he would average 24.1 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. He is hitting 84.3 percent of his free throw shots. He is shooting 66.2 percent from the floor. His offensive rating somehow rose this year, and he leads the team with an ORtg of 127.0 (per Ken Pomeroy).
Through 13 games this season, Sabonis has essentially had one bad game against Texas A&M, where his tendency to foul emerged. Other than that, it has been an exclamation point after an exclamation point on one of the better seasons we've ever seen from a Gonzaga forward. He is one of just nine players in college hoops right now to average more than 17 points and 10 rebounds per game, alongside some kid named Ben Simmons from LSU.
The most important thing about it all, he is the only one of those nine players to be accomplishing this feat so efficiently. Any conversation that involves the best forward/center in the country has to start with Sabonis in the conversation.
Right now, Sabonis is the go-to player for the Zags, and for a team that has been searching for a visible identity, he has emerged as the face of this team more than anyone. There aren't a lot of bad things to say about Sabonis' play this season, and games like the one he had against Tennessee are just reminders that we need to sit back and enjoy what we are seeing. Because as it stands now, it seems like a bit far-fetched that we will get to watch his play next season.