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3-on-3: Managing Anton Watson’s shoulder, the biggest WCC threat, and has the defense turned a corner?

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NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at San Diego Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

KY: The start of WCC basketball has certainly been eventful. Last week the sky was falling in some corners of the fanbase, but this week the Zags look cured and Saint Mary’s might be off the bubble. Who knows whether those things remain true by the end of next weekend. What we do know is there are still a lot of questions to be answered in this season. Let’s ponder a few right now.Anton Watson took a hard fall into a basket stanchion in the first half of Saturday’s game against LMU and did not return after re-injuring his problematic left shoulder for the fifth or sixth time this season. With the obvious caveat that none of us are medical professionals and don’t have the same information as the medical and coaching staffs, is it time for Mark Few to shut Watson down? Was it a mistake not to do so weeks ago?

SK: I am not a medical professional, but I do know dozens of twitter doctors who all know the answer to this!

PW: All of whom have had the exact same injury as well.

SK: In all seriousness, if they believe this is something that can be “fixed” with rest, then I would rest him until late february. If this is going to continue all season and surgery is the only option, I would probably get the surgery now so he’s ready for next season. From my limited knowledge, shoulder surgery can be tricky and having the most recovery time before October rolls around would be ideal. He is going to be such a major part of next year’s team, with Tillie and perhaps Petrusev leaving. It’s a tough thing in the short term, but perhaps long term, it’s best for him to do what he needs to do.

PW: I agree. The two options (generally speaking) when it comes to recuperating from injuries are either surgery or rest. Right now, Watson isn’t getting either/or. I’m sure that he wants to play, and I’m sure he also knows he isn’t 100% but wants to play anyway. That is what players do. But at some point, we have to see some sort of decision made for Watson. If there is the possibility (remote) that he could get shutdown now and be healthy for March Madness, it’s a no-brainer and you do that. I think that most likely we will see surgery in his future, and if that is the case, I think you still shut him down now so he is as healthy as can be to help lead the tricky trio to a natty. Watson realistically hasn’t been consistently part of the team in terms of minutes since late November, and the Zags have been fine.

KY: I’m sure that if Watson was at risk of serious long-term injury to the shoulder the team wouldn’t let him see the floor, and up to this point it’s simply been a pain tolerance situation. In the game against USD on Thursday, Watson looked as aggressive as he has since he first injured the shoulder against Texas A&M, but otherwise he’s been playing very cautiously in an effort not to aggravate it. I don’t see how it helps him or the team to have him on the floor for 8-10 minutes per game, and popping out his shoulder every other game. Hindsight is 20/20, but the Zags could have shut Watson down after the Arizona game for the rest of December and all of January to maximize the opportunity for his shoulder to calm down and stabilize in time for postseason play. Of course, that might just put us where we’re at now, but it seems counterproductive to run him out there when he’s not at maximum effectiveness and exposed to repeated trauma. If he’s going to need surgery, it seems like the best thing would be to do it now to give him the best opportunity to start next year at 100% like Steven mentioned. That may also give him a chance to still have developmental time this summer which would be huge.

SK: I think there’s a real case that can be made that Watson’s defense and versatility could be the difference between a Final Four and not, though, which is the hardest part to this whole decision.

PW: Yeah, if you take a look at his defense and how he stuffs the box score, no one on the team does it like him. Without Watson, the Zags are definitely a worse team. However, it is a rough game plan to operate in March when one player of your rather limited rotation is very liable to exit the game after four minutes.

KY: After just two weeks, Gonzaga remains the only undefeated team in WCC play, though not without a pair of scares. It has been a strange season in college basketball so far, with surprising wins and losses occurring every week in just about every conference. I’m not sure that Gonzaga makes it through conference play unscathed, so which WCC team will be the most likely to hand it an L?

PW: I’m going BYU solely because TJ Haws dunked and I didn’t know he could do that.

KY: Haha, dang that’s what I was going to say! Jordan Ford is legit, but I’m not buying into this Saint Mary’s team. BYU with Childs is a legitimately strong team that is tournament quality, and now that TJ Haws is dunking all bets are off.

SK: BYU with Yoeli Childs healthy has the best chance. Unfortunately, he may not play this coming Saturday because of a finger injury. Pepperdine spread the floor with shooters, including a stretch 5-man. BYU has that same ability. Haws is a legit guard and he’s flanked by incredible shooters in Barcello, Toolson, and even their roll players in Nixon and Harding are shooting over 40 percent. So if Childs get healthy and they shoot well from deep, it wouldn’t shock me to see Gonzaga lose in Provo.

As a sleeper, watch out for Santa Clara. I know their record is gaudy because of their weak SOS, but they have legit talent and very legit size. They dominated Saint Mary’s in the paint in their victory in Moraga. Willy Caruso is 6’11, but has a foot injury, but Josip Vrankic is 6’9 and scored 22 against the Gaels. DJ Mitchell is a Wake Forest transfer and has a lot of talent and they added a freshman big in Jaden Bediako who played for Canada in the U19 World Cup. Don’t think this will be the same Broncos team that Brandon Clarke dunked all over last season.

PW: Honestly, I think BYU is the most dangerous team not named Gonzaga. Saint Mary’s is a great team, but I’m not sure that them playing their grind-out style of ball is going to be the key to beating the Zags this season. BYU on the other hand has dudes. Yoeli Childs is probably the best player in the WCC not named Killian Tillie, and even with the losses in Moraga and at Utah, BYU has been playing really good basketball since that loss to Kansas at the end of November.

SK: BYU is up to 24 in KenPom, by the way. KP predicts a 78-77 win for the Zags in Provo. They are legit.

KY: Gonzaga’s defense looked much improved over the last two games, which arrested its slide down the KenPom defensive rankings that has been ongoing since Thanksgiving. Can we expect to see the Zags sustain that level of performance or was it simply illusory in light of the competition they were playing?

PW: For me, if it were any team but San Diego on Thursday, I’d be cautiously more excited. But the Toreros literally have the worst offense in the conference. It is nearly 300 KenPom bad.

SK: They are clearly capable of being an elite defensive team. We’ve seen it at stretches throughout the season. At this point, it’s a matter of consistency. The coaches got in them a little bit after some complacent performances against Portland and Pepperdine and they responded this past weekend. Last year, it felt like the same problem - elite offense with a questionable defense. By the end of the season, they were in the top 20, but they also lost to Texas Tech because they gave up 75 points and 1.06 PPP. So, to be completely honest, it’s all about stringing 6 good performances together in March.

PW: I think the Zags are hopefully trending in the right direction. Even if BYU is Childs-less on Saturday, that’ll be the game to hopefully draw some more concrete conclusions about their ability to string it together for a full 40 minutes. That is all I want. Forty minutes of just slightly good defense.

KY: Most of the defensive failings this season have been execution related--not because they lack ability. Communication and attention to detail are the keys to this team getting it done. They did both of those things well this weekend, and they can certainly build on that.

PW: Overall, all we can hope at this point is that it continues to improve. Even myself, raised as a faithfully pessimistic sports fan because of the Seattle Mariners, probably expected too much in terms of defense from this squad given how many new faces are there.

KY: If Gonzaga plays forty minutes of slightly good defense against BYU, can we get Peter to stick his head in an oven?

PW: If that is what it takes I will gladly be this fanbase’s sacrificial lamb.

SK: If TJ Haws dunks in the Kennel, I may put my head in the oven for other reasons.

KY: That would be a reasonable response, to be honest.

PW: I would like to have a moment of silence for Ayayi’s first real “meh” game this season against LMU. May it never happen again.

KY: I didn’t want to mention that, Peter, because that would have made it real. Thanks.