The Gonzaga Bulldogs begin conference play tomorrow, ranked at No. 7 in the country, No. 3 in Ken Pomeroy, and owning a 13-2 record. All of this was done without Killian Tillie and a large chunk of the first half was missing Geno Crandall.
With approximately 50 percent of the season under our collective belts, it is time to turn to the familiar opponents of the West Coast Conference. Before that happens, a few of us on the staff reflected on what has happened so far.
What has been the most pleasant surprise this season?
Steven - The impact Jeremy Jones has had is by far the best story of the season. He single-handedly won the Illinois game and he had another double-double the other night. He consistently plays well off the bench and is, by all accounts, one of the hardest workers and nicest guys to come through the program.
Arden - How well Gonzaga’s assist to turnover ratio is. The Bulldogs rank #5 in the nation at 1.68. Only Presbyterian (1.70), Tennessee (1.80), Southern Miss (1.84), and Virginia (1.87) have a better ratio than the Zags. Josh Perkins also ranks #21 in the nation for assist to turnover ratio at 3.33.
Peter - You always here about how good guys are developing during the redshirt season, but you can never truly have any idea until they play. Brandon Clarke has been every bit advertised and then some. True, his free throw shooting and jump shooting can leave quite a bit to be desired, but his athletic ability to block and sky for rebounds has been so fun to watch. And yeah, they lost the game, but that block in the Tennessee game? I still haven’t recovered.
What has been the biggest disappointment so far?
Steven - This may be a cop out answer, but the injuries to Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall really put a damper on things. Not only are they both fun to watch and Gonzaga could have used them both against Tennessee and UNC, but we won’t be able to see the entire squad against elite competition until March. Whether that ends up being an advantage or disadvantage, we will see. But it deprived us fans of some full strength, elite-level basketball games.
Arden - It has got to be the injuries to Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall. We will never really know what could have happened in the Tennessee and North Carolina games if the Zags had a fully healthy roster. Maybe Gonzaga will get the opportunity to see one or both of those teams in March Madness.
Peter - I want to say the defensive cracks but I have to give it to the injuries as well. If the Zags had one of those two players healthy, I’d feel happy to say the defense. However, considering the Zags are essentially missing two of the first six players that ever see the court each game, it is hard to be too critical. That said, the most disappointing play the entire season was that time Noah Dickerson beat the entire team down the court in transition. Those sorts of lapses should never happen. They will from time to time, but hopefully, the Zags can put a clamp on those sorts of brain farts.
Fifty percent of the way through the season, what grade do you give the Zags and why?
Steven - Given the injuries and lack of depth, I would say A- is fair. Obviously, we would have all liked to hold on to the Tennessee victory. But they still beat Duke and took care of business with the rest of the schedule like they should have. And they have the best offense in the country by a decent margin on KenPom. You can already see the last few games that the defense is starting to come around after some much needed rest.
Arden - A-. My record prediction I made in the beginning of the season has been perfect so far at 13-2 so they have lived up to my expectations. I give Gonzaga the minus just because their have been some games against higher competition like Tennessee and North Carolina that have been a bit disappointing on the defensive end.
Peter - I am going to be harsh on this squad and say B+, which is kind of dumb because their record through the first-half of the season is exactly where I thought it would stand. That three-game stretch against Washington, Tennessee, and North Carolina, was truly frustrating basketball to watch, especially considering the Zags did the “unthinkable” and beat Duke. At that point in the year, I was more than ready to book my ticket to Minneapolis. Watching Gonzaga during that three-game stretch, especially against UW at home, had me wondering if they’d even make it out of the second round. The defense has shown the glimpses of competitiveness I know exists, and when at full-strength, all things will be better, but that was a pretty sour patch of effort from a top team in the nation.
What are you most looking forward to in WCC play?
Steven - How many teams will realistically give Gonzaga a game? USF has a legit defense and rebound the ball at a high level. But they don’t shoot the ball from deep and don’t have the athleticism to match Gonzaga. BYU is back to playing zero defense this season. Saint Mary’s is playing quietly well the last couple weeks, but is still searching for a third scoring option. USD always plays grinders. Those four teams should compete on their home floors for awhile, but I still have a hard time believing any of them actually beat Gonzaga without some Bulldog foul trouble.
Arden - Gonzaga at USF. I will be attending the game at War Memorial Gymnasium. I’m really looking forward to the match-up between Josh Perkins and Frankie Ferrari. I thought Gonzaga at BYU was going to be the toughest game in the WCC before the season started but I think Zags versus Dons will be the toughest game of the year now. Gonzaga is on a 14-game winning streak against the Dons. The last loss came on February 18, 2012 at San Francisco.
Peter - Good luck at that game Arden. I stopped going to War Memorial Gymnasium for Gonzaga games after I personally witnessed three-consecutive losses there from 2010-2012 (two in overtime). I’m still convinced it is one of the “hardest” places to play despite the fact the Zags have won all the games since 2012. I think Gonzaga is going to steamroll the competition. The WCC team is better this year because the bad isn’t nearly as bad, but no one is on the level of the Zags. That said, San Francisco will provide a great test because of their defense, and I’m rooting for the Dons to win as many games as possible. I’d love to see a multi-bid WCC in March.