Zag fans' ears perked up when Cal junior guard Jordan Mathews announced that he would graduate and transfer this summer with the Zags the early favorite for his landing spot.
The news is surprising, as the major depth concern for the Bulldogs seemed to be in the front court rather than the logjam at the guard positions. But, Mathews is a special talent that answers many of the perimeter concerns that many have for next year. Mathews' game is largely centered around his three point scoring. The 42 percent three point shooter had 63 percent of his shots taken behind the arc last year. His 201 career threes through his junior season ranked him third all time with the California Golden Bears.
Mathews is a high percentage shooter, but had difficulty translating in Cuonzo Martin's style of play. Mathews excels in a half court offense and system that moves the ball around. Martin valued defense greatly and Mathews seemed to be glaringly deficient and a point of contention for Martin when he got to Cal last year. Martin harped on the guard until he began turning the corner with his defense during conference play.
After a three game losing streak to Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford, Mathews started coming off the bench. Coach Martin most likely wanted to start with his system of high level defense and large athletic players. Martin still used him as a spark of the bench, and he played similar minutes to the 29.7 minutes per game he averaged throughout the season.
Mathews averaged 13.5 points per game, third most on the team, and improved his ball handling and drive skills to become a double threat offensively. He sometimes would get lost in the offense's focus as Cal had a few mouths to feed, leaving with 5 guys averaging double digits. But in their lone tournament game, Cal relied on him to stay in the game against Hawaii with Mathews scoring 23 points on 60 percent shooting. Mathews still is not a world beater on defense, but he would not be a liability like some Zags volume scorers of the past.
His transfer to Gonzaga is not necessarily a given
, as he is visiting North Carolina State on June 16 before visiting Spokane on June 24. The 16-17 North Carolina State Wolfpack may seem like an odd choice for a graduate transfer, but their two bigs, Abdul-Malik Abu and BeeJay Anya, are withdrawing from the draft and returning. Couple that with bringing in stud freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and you have a viable landing spot with the potential to be a big surprise in the ACC.
But Gonzaga seems to be the favorite. You could argue that the Zags' system is a great fit for the three point sniper, but surely Donny Daniels being his godfather could not hurt. Mathews clearly could benefit in being in the Mark Few System that finds the hot hand and gets perimeter guys open. Mathews would immediately be the most proven three point shooter on the team, and you could expect his 6.3 three point attempts to surely go up. He could very easily be a guy that scorches some of the lackluster defenses in the WCC and just goes off five to eight games this season.
What is difficult to solve with this is how you play defense with this back court. Nigel Williams-Goss, Josh Perkins and Mathews are all listed at 6-3. Granted, that seems gigantic in comparison to that Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and David Stockton back court. But if you look for the big problem that the Zags faced against Syracuse, it was the size and length of the Orangemen back court and wings.
Also, what happens now with the underclassmen on this team? Bryan Alberts may struggle to overcome another perimeter player vying for playing time. With Mathews and Silas Melson being favorites for the three guard position, Zach Norvell's expectations for this season and playing time may need to be tempered for the freshman guard.
These though are problems that are ultimately good problems. A Mathews addition demands competition and for the guys currently with the program to step their game up if they want to see the floor. Mathews by all accounts is a quality guy too, and the academic ability to get your degree in three years is something very familiar to this program.
Mathews could be the major piece that pushes this Zag team to maintain their tournament run and second weekend tournament play. Depth is a luxury that only top caliber teams receive, and Gonzaga has started seeing that luxury coming into the Logan.
UPDATE: Jordan Mathews cancelled his June 16 visit to North Carolina State.