And so we’ve come to the most intriguing part of this year’s team. Coming into last season, Jacob Larsen was more or less a mystery. Nobody knew how he would respond to his knee injuries and what kind of shape he would be in. He finished the season averaging 2.4 points over 32 games, but that does not tell the story in the slightest.
Jacob Larsen’s redshirt freshman season felt like a tale of two halves. Let’s try to break them down, shall we? The first half of the season, Larsen was part of the rotation and got meaningful minutes in nearly every game. He showed flashes of every skill you would want out of a true center. He got deep position on post-ups, his shot blocking and shot altering were noticeable and his passing ability was impressive.
In this first clip, you can see him battling as the anchor of a zone, blocking a shot, running the court, getting deep post position and sealing a defender long enough for Killian Tillie to finish off a lob. The backend of the clip is a beautiful pass after recognizing a defensive breakdown in rotations. If you have volume, Dickau and Fox rave about that passing ability.
In the first 18 games of the season, Larsen averaged 5.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and just under a block and an assist per game across 12.5 minutes. Those are very respectable numbers and it was an encouraging sign moving forward.
Then the second half of the season hit and Larsen began to struggle. Late in the season, assistant coach Tommy Lloyd admitted that Larsen had hit a wall. Whether his body just wasn’t ready for a full season or it was just a freshman struggling to adjust, it was unfortunate to see him fall out of favor.
One of the reasons it felt like he got less and less playing time was his inability to defend ball screens. He was often playing on his heels, as you’ll see in this video. In the home loss against Saint Mary’s, many fans were wondering why he didn’t see more action guarding Jock Landale.
Larsen played for three and half minutes in that game. The Gaels went 5-for-5 from the floor and four of those involved Landale screening or passing from the post. Larsen missed his only shot attempt and didn’t see the floor the rest of the game. In the final 16 games of the season, Larsen only averaged four minutes and scored five total points.
So that leads us to the big question: Where does that leave Jacob Larsen this season? Obviously Gonzaga has their “Big Three” with Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie, and Brandon Clarke. But they need that fourth big. Larsen will be fighting with incoming freshman Filip Petrusev for those 8-10 minutes.
By all accounts, Larsen is fully healthy and is quicker this season. For me personally, I believe he has a leg up on Petrusev. The main reason is that he brings something nobody else on the roster can: legit center size. Two years ago, teams refused to go at Karnowski and Collins. This year, Brandon Clarke’s athleticism will block shots, but Gonzaga needs a big body to alter shots, ala Karnowski. Jacob Larsen is that guy. He doesn’t need to be a star on offense; Gonzaga has enough offensive talent already. If he can become a defensive presence inside and use his passing ability on the offensive end, he can essentially become Karnowski-lite.
People may forget that this is the third year in the program for Jacob Larsen. He’s been around long enough to be labeled a veteran. With a full year of game action under his belt, another year to work on his body, and a clean bill of health, this could be the breakout year we all hope for the Great Dane.