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Silas Melson 2.0

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What a difference a year makes

NCAA Basketball: AdvoCare Invitational-Gonzaga vs Quinnipiac Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

During last December’s dark days, I think Ziggin-n-zaggin was the first to quip Silas Melson wears his Field Goals Made on the front of his jersey. During an important 3-game home stand, he was a combined 0-12 from the field in the close win against Montana and the two tough losses against Arizona and UCLA. The next month during an eight-game stretch early in conference play, he was 0fer in five of those games shooting a combined 5 for 21. In these 11 games, he was a 1-15 (6.7%) from 3.

Silas Melson was broken. It didn’t seem to be a confidence issue, he had plenty of that, as much as a decision making problem. The kid who literally went from street clothes one night to helping beat St John’s in Madison Square Garden the next was forcing shots. It wasn’t all his fault, the entire backcourt played pretty poorly for the first half of last season. With Karnowski down, opponents could concentrate on Wiltjer and Sabonis and the Zags desperately needed a backcourt scoring threat. Silas stepped up to the plate, he just couldn’t hit the ball or in this case, the rim. The young man with so much potential was now losing minutes to Bryan Alberts. He was still playing based on his athleticism, defense and rebounding but was in jeopardy of finding a permanent place in Mark Few’s deep, dark, doghouse.

To his and the coaching staff’s credit, Melson somehow regained his mojo, playing pretty well the 2nd half of the season. His efforts contributed to one of the most memorable seasons ever but most Zag fans couldn’t wait until next season when NWG was eligible, Matthews arrived and the freshman class could start playing. GU could use Silas sporadically as a shut-down defender but his days of playing major minutes were surely over.

This season, Josh Perkins legal troubles allowed Melson to start against Utah Valley State and he took full advantage of the opportunity going 8-13 and scoring 17 points. Gone were the off-balance floaters and long 3s with 20 seconds left on the shot clock, replaced with strong drives to the basket and feathery 5-ft bank shots. Maybe it was being on a better balanced team, maybe it was a change in attitude, whatever it was Melson looked like different player. Averaging over 28 per minutes over the 4 games Melson was also doing the little things to ensure he’d continue receiving significant playing time. He’s only committed 3 turnovers in five games (Perkins and NWG each had 4 against Florida), he hasn’t missed a free throw (5-5) and has 5 steals, 15 rebounds and 7 assists. The lock down defender is contributing on both ends of the court.

With better shot selection, he’s shooting an impressive 50% from inside the arc, using his hops and strength to overpower opposing guards. Three-point shooting is still an issue. He was only 2-11 going into last night’s contest and missed his first three attempts against Florida. You wouldn’t expect a player shooting 14% from beyond the arc to keep firing, but thankfully that’s exactly what Melson did. He made a 3 to give Gonzaga its first lead 60-57 and made another three minutes later to extend that lead to 68-59. To top that off, his two clutch free throws with 22 seconds left to play all but clinched the win for Gonzaga. Confidence intact, decision making improved.

Melson took a lot of heat last season and rightfully so. This year’s version is rapidly becoming a fan favorite and rightfully so. It reminds me of three other sophomores; Olynyk, Hart and Stockton who went from “why the hell is he playing” to “I told you he was great” in the course of a season. Sure we want to see Zach Norvell but with Silas Melson playing like he is right now, the minutes just aren’t there. Let your knee heal Zach, Gonzaga is winning and Melson is one of the reasons why. I told you he was great.