Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all of our loyal readers out there. In the spirit of giving thanks, we would like to take a second to recognize all of you for your continued support and readership of this little ol’ blog. We may disagree on some things in the comments, but this is a cool community to be a part of, and we should all be grateful that Gonzaga continues to make memories for us.
And now, in the spirit of giving, we pretend that we are Santa Shem and Mark Few has come to the Mall to sit on our lap. He lists five things he and the staff want more than anything else this holiday season.
1. Healthy Roster
Gonzaga is the number one team in the country despite half of their rotation playing at 80 percent health or worse. Anton Watson has missed several games due to ankle and shoulder injuries. Killian Tillie’s knee flares up whenever it wants. Admon Gilder and Ryan Woolridge haven’t been fully healthy since the Bahamas, though it looks like both are certainly getting close now. More than anything else, Mark Few, his staff, and the fans would love to see this team operating on full health when March rolls around. With all eight players clicking, they are as good as anyone.
2. Improved Defense
The Bulldogs have the best offense in the country according to several advanced metrics. However, their defense is still struggling when it doesn’t force turnovers. Opponents’ effective field goal percentage is at 47.3, which is outside the top 100 in the country and is the worst mark for a Gonzaga team since Adam Morrison left. Their two-point defense is 83rd in the nation. They have been in the top 10 each of the last three seasons, and in the top 30 in 11 of the last 13 years. Their turnover percentage, however, is the highest it has been since 2013. In essence, they either turn the opponent over or they give up a good shot. With a group that hadn’t played together much, some of this is understandable. But the rotations and contesting of shots will have to improve the next two months.
3. Better Free Throw Shooting
Gonzaga’s current 66.4 percent shooting from the foul line is, quite literally, the worst clip in the Mark Few Era. They get to the line at a much higher rate than the last two seasons, but Corey Kispert is the only player shooting better than 72 percent. Filip Petrusev is top 15 in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, but is a not-so-nice 69 percent from the line. Drew Timme, who has the second most FT attempts, is shooting 59 percent. Ryan Woolridge is at 51 and even Joel Ayayi is at 61 percent. The group in general is much better than the numbers indicate, but if they don’t put it together, it could cost them an NCAA Tournament game.
4. Challenging Conference Games
The WCC has had a strong non-conference showing and it appears that Saint Mary’s and BYU have legitimate chances to make the NCAA Tournament. But it would be really nice if Santa Clara and USF and Pepperdine continue to improve their programs and give Gonzaga some tough contests this year. Everyone loves when Gonzaga dominates, but it certainly never hurts to go through multiple tight-game, last-minute situations later in the season to prepare them for the NCAA Tournament in March.
5. Jalen Suggs Commitment
The long-awaited announcement of Jalen Suggs’ future takes place on January 4. The 2020 priority recruit will tell the world his decision that night prior to his game against Sierra Canyon. Gonzaga appears to be the landing spot, but rumors of playing professionally are still floating around and nobody will be certain until the words come out of Suggs’ mouth. If you add Suggs, arguably the top point guard prospect in the class, to talented combo guard Dom Harris and explosive wing Julian Strawther, Gonzaga fans will be drooling in excitement for next season before this season is even over.