December 19, 2014

Twenty-Game Coast to the Tournament

Note: it came to my attention I never properly posted this piece. I'm new and learning the interface so thank you for your patience. A late byu recap to follow as well...

The Zags are looking at possibly coasting to the tournament.  It's non-conference schedule is almost done (save for an unranked Memphis team), and the rest of the WCC is looking weaker and more flat than it has in the past.

BYU starters Tyler Haws (ankle) and Nate Austin (hamstring) are dealing with injuries,  and Saint Mary's is in the home stretch of sanctions for recruiting violations.  Meanwhile, other WCC teams are improving their records, but it's unclear whether the conference is getting better or their non-conference schedule has been easier.

Battle in Seattle (California Polytechnic State University)

Cal Poly Whoniversity?  Cal Poly is in the Big West Conference, along with a bunch of other barely-division 1 California programs, and Hawaii. They are 5-4 on the season and 1-4 away (yes, battle is technically neutral, but it's really an away game for anyone but UW).  They made it to the big dance last year, but it was on an automatic nod winning their conference tournament.  They entered the round of 64 as a 16-seed.  No, you didn't miss history.  They lost.   There's good reason lower bowl tickets are going for $35 a piece this year.

Cal Poly comes in with an abysmal 25% shooting from the promise land against the Zags 40%, and challenges the Zags 61% from within the paint with their 42%.  Offensively, the Zags are looking at a blowout.  Defensively, the size mismatch against their starting line-up should make this a game where Coach Few might be thinking about letting the younger guys get some extra minutes.  Cal Poly has two at 6'9", one at 6'8", and the rest below.  Luke Meikle stands at 6'9" (sound familiar?) but he is redshirted due to his transfer from Gonzaga.  Brian Bennett puts up points against average defenses but will likely be overwhelmed by three Zags taller and more athletic than him.  Aleks Abrams clocks in at 6'8", but averages 1.5 ppg and probably won't come off the bench at all in Seattle.  The only advantage Cal Poly has is a taller back court, but height in the back is likely to have little impact against what is roundly considered one of the best backcourts in the division 1 basketball.

Cal Poly can't shoot from the outside or inside, and the Zags will likely dominate the post on both sides of the ball.  Unless he's a really hot date who takes you to the Chihuly exhibit, this won't be a battle to remember.

At BYU December 27th

Missing Firepower.  Nate Austin (hamstring),
Eric Mika (mission), Tyler Haws (ankle)

With or without Haws, it looks like BYU will be without post-presence and rim-protector Nate Austin.  Even with Austin though, the numbers would favor a win for the Zags.  They will travel to Provo ranked in the AP top 10, Przemek Karnowski has some muscular help in the post this time with Domantas Sabonis showing immediate talent and athleticism as a true freshman, and Kevin Pangos' turfy-toes are 100%.  Nonetheless, BYU always seems to think they're assured of the upset, and that keeps 20,000 fans loud and proud until the buzzer.  Utah (13) experienced the down-to-the-wire fight BYU puts teams through to take home the W, and now BYU has the motivation of a narrow rivalry loss going into its other rivalry.  Luckily though, the Zags aren't coming in on the heals of a loss to BYU's other-other rival Saint Mary's (they won't meet until January 17).

In reality the game might end up being another coast-to-the-buzzer win like UCLA was.  Nobody in their right mind would argue the team who almost beat Arizona (3) at the McKale Center, the team who is a convincing 2-1 against the PAC12, the team who is putting up top 10 assists/turnover/scoring and defensive figures would struggle against a hobbled, choking BYU team.  But the highlight reels tell a different story, and the Zags will be on their toes for this one.

Armchair Considerations for the BYU game

Sabonis could get limited minutes because, while he has an absolutely beautiful post game*, footwork, and is very athletic, he's also shown he can let his aggressiveness manifest into fouls and turnovers.  Combine this with a hostile BYU environment he's encountering for the first time, and the referees could be extra raw to his aggressiveness.  Karnowski might get double-duty in the post on defense, and Wiltjer's shooting might be called on to help Karnowski stretch the floor on offense.

Byron Wesley might quietly explode again for 20+ points.  Without BYU's major rim protectors like Austin (hamstring) and Eric Mika (mission),  Isaac Neilson will have to fill in.  Besides the occasional block, his defense is about as underwhelming as his bald spot. Wesley's quickness is a lane threat against any line-up.  With BYU's interior defense diminished, Wesley only has the guard line to get through, and he knows how to do that consistently.  He's proven to be a steady hand in hostile situations and he likes getting to the rim for easy lay-ups.  Watch for a big game and a few and-ones for Wesley. 

6'5" Byron Wesley beats 7'0" Thomas Welsh to the basket, in a game
where he softly highlighted the value of veteran finesse.  He unassumingly
scored 20 points against two PAC12 opponents back-to-back.
41% of his shots have been at the rim this season, by far
the highest of Gonzaga's starting guards and Kyle Wiltjer.

Dressed to serve the BYU's diminished interior.  Isaac Neilson

*Sabonis' post game is something rare.  Few players can effectively execute back-to-the-basket play like him and he's mastered backing down his post defender dribbling off his right, then hooking the shot using his left.  His IQ and positioning is something Dick Vitale called "special."

The conference schedule + Memphis

Be on the look-out for surges from the likes of Santa Clara and Saint Mary's taking aim at the boredom target on the Zags' backs as they tour through the WCC.  Santa Clara has a commanding 9-point win over WSU and Saint Mary's battled for an overtime win at McDermottless-Creighton.  Memphis is not the team it was last year.  It's just not playing well, having played only one ranked team (Wichita State), offering a 5-4 record.  Two of those losses were at Memphis.

The Zags (way too early to really know) only concern at this point is shaking off some rust entering the dance.  It will enter the back-to-back elite play the tournament demands off mediocre conference play, with its last two games at the Kennel.

December 17, 2014

Gonzaga's Jesse Wade highlights

Jesse Wade will be going on his Mormon mission for two years, but when he gets back he'll be a point guard at Gonzaga for the ages! Watch the video and see him rain in threes during his MVP performance at the .

December 16, 2014

Kelly Olynyk Goes NUTS in W over 76ers - Scores Career-High 30!

Former Gonzaga star Kelly Olynyk scored a career high 30 points vs. the 76ers last night. Watch Full highlights in this video!!~

December 12, 2014

Gonzaga takes on UCLA at Pauley Pavilion

Gonzaga (8-1) will have their hands full Saturday night at 7 p.m. when they face the UCLA Bruins (7-2) at legendary Pauley Pavilion.

This Bruin team is young, but has superior talent and athleticism. They have size, deep shooters, NBA prospects, and excellent rebounding. They are one of the top teams in the nation in scoring and one a very few teams that boast a starting five where all five score in double figures.

Coach Alford’s son, Bryce, is the point guard and is an outstanding one. He scores 17.5 ppg, 7.1 assists, shoots .900 from the foul line, and a respectable .355 from deep. He will be matched up with Kevin Pangos, who has been in a slump the past two games. Bryce has a couple inches on Pangos, who seems to struggle at times with big guards. It would be nice to see him blow up on the road and win this battle but it will be a steep challenge.

Besides Bryce, the biggest deep shooting threat on UCLA is Norman Powell .463, who can really light it up. He is also their leading scorer hitting 17.9 ppg. Powell will probably go up against Byron Wesley in what should be a fairly even matchup. Wesley’s biggest challenge will be to get in Powell’s grill and slow him down on the perimeter.

The Bruins have size in Kevon Looney, an NBA prospect, and Toney Parker, who provide about 25 ppg and 20 boards per game between the pair. If the refs don’t get carried away with too many phantom foul calls on Karnowski and Wiltjer we should be ok. But, it’s in Pauly so we’ll see how that plays out.

Now, here’s where we get a clear advantage over these Bruins. After the starting five, they fall off, and I mean they drop off a cliff. They have zero depth. Gonzaga needs to use their depth to their advantage. Rotate players in and out, and wear them down. UCLA also has a tendency to get off to slow starts. They have had to climb out of half time deficits to get wins on occasion. That being said, it would be nice if Gonzaga got off to a fast start.

This game is extremely important as the Zags need a marquee victory on their resume. There will not be another chance to get one. Yes, we still have Memphis down the road but a win vs UCLA in Pauley Pavilion would do very well.

I expect a fairly high scoring game that the Zags should be able to pull out. About 85-77 feels about right. One more thing…the teams are 1-1 but the last time we met was in 2006 in the NCAA Tournament. That’s all I’d like to say about that, other than some revenge would be very satisfying! 

December 5, 2014

Gonzaga vs Arizona

This is a difficult one to call. It’s defense vs. offense, #3 vs. #9. Many pundits are expecting Arizona to win big at home. Perhaps some are biased in UA’s favor from memories of ‘Zona’s beat-down of the Zags in the last NCAA Tourney, that ended Gonzaga’s season last year. The game is also in the desert where Arizona rarely loses. They are in the midst of a 25 home game winning streak, and also hold the nations longest regular-season non-conf winning streak at 34 games. Coincidentally, the last time they lost was in December 2011. Who was the team that did it? Here it comes…Gonzaga.

Perhaps ‘Zona wants to get some payback for the Zags wrecking their winning streak. Maybe they think because they rolled us last year it will be another blow-out. I say, not so fast, because this is a very different Zag team.

The addition of Kyle Wiltjer should spell trouble for ‘Zona. Coming over from Kentucky, he has lots of experience in big games, so he will not be rattled by the rowdy venue. If he can float out to the perimeter and hit threes, it will cause problems for their bigs. He’s been in a bit of a slump from deep of late but anyone who can hit 70 of 75 consecutive 3s in a Utube video should be able to knock down say, 4 or 5 on the road. This game will be telling too. Can Wiltjer really stay in the paint and bang with the big boys? Certainly, we’ll need him to roam out to the perimeter, stretch the defense and bury threes, but we’ll need him to go hard in the paint too because Arizona is big and physical. It’s time so show how much the redshirt strengthening helped his inside game.
Bryon Wesley is something else that was lacking on last years team. He is a starting wing that can do it all. He is athletic, can score all over the paint, has good size, and plays pretty mean D as well. A boisterous crowd in the desert won’t faze him either, as he’s already played there several times.

Domas Sabonis will also be a handful for ‘Zona. They will get their first taste of him and they will not like it. He can score in a variety of ways, and is a ferocious rebounder. He will have his hands full with Rondae-Hollis-Jefferson, but I think Domas wins this matchup.

Also, Pangos & Bell are seniors, battle tested and healthy. A hostile crowd like this should be a walk in the park to them but Pangos needs to shake the rep of going blind from deep on the road. Additionally, Bell needs to assert himself on the offensive end and show what he can do in a big game. Remember last season, early on they were smoking hot, but then the injuries mounted? Well, it’s early, they are on fire and healthy. Expect solid games from both.

Arizona has plenty of size, boasting two 7 footers. They will probably put 7’0 junior 245 lb. Kaleb Tarczewski on Karnowski. They have similar stats with Kaleb hitting a higher % from the line and Przemek being a bigger body at 290 pounds. Other than that it looks to be a pretty even match-up between centers.

If the Wildcats have a weakness it’s scoring consistently. They have a tendency to go cold for extended minutes. They cover this up well because as they stall on offense, their very good defense holds it down while they finally get rolling. With Gonzaga’s depth plus all the offensive weapons, that might get them in some serious trouble.

Keys to victory:

1. Get off to a fast start
2. Wiltjer needs his deep shot falling
3. Pangos & Bell need to show they can hit the three on the road
4. Avoid foul trouble w/ our bigs
5. Use our depth, go 10 deep and slow down ‘Zona’s D

Key matchups:

1. Pangos vs  McConnell- both are on all kinds of preseason award lists. Pangos for his offense, while McConnell for defense.

2. Sabonis vs Hollis- expect a battle here. Two of the nations best 6th men.

Look for a fairly low scoring event that will probably come down to a possession or two one way or the other. Zona’s D does not give up a lot of points but their offense struggles from time to time. Can Gonzaga’s potent offense get a couple extra buckets along the way, or will home-court for ‘Zona plus their D prove too much?

Zags 71   UA 69 

December 2, 2014


After a very successful trip to Madison Square Garden and fresh off a National Invitational Tournament Championship, the 6-0 Zags look for what should be a fairly routine home win tonight at 6 p.m. against 2-5 Southeastern Louisiana.

Coming off two hotly contested wins (hotly meaning the refs might have been a bit feverish) against physical Georgia and St. Johns teams, tonight’s home game should see some even-handed refereeing. I doubt there will be kamikaze kicks to our players faces (see: Perkins broken jaw) and numerous phantom fouls (see: Karnowski called for a block with both hands straight up while the opponent drove into his back). Vent over.

Anyhow, I would expect Coach Few to use this game to do some fine tuning in preparation for Saturday’s huge road game against #3 ranked Arizona. With Josh Perkins out for an extended period necessitating coach Few to pull Silas Melson’s redshirt, I would anticipate seeing some different looks with Silas getting a lot of run.

SE Louisiana plays in the Southland Conference where they have won two of their last three games, getting wins against Tennessee Tech and Langston. They have four players who score in double digits: Jackson 15.7 ppg, Filmore 12.1 ppg, Guillory 10.3, and Devonte Upson 10.0 (he is also their leading rebounder ave. 8.1 pg).

They shoot a woeful .278 from deep. Filmore is the most dangerous sniper hitting a respectable .388. As far as size, they do not have any. Their Center, and biggest player, Devonte Upson, goes 6’9 and weighs in at only 205 pounds. Look for our bigs to basically score at will.

As well as being severely undersized, SE Louisiana turns it over to the tune of 16 times per game. Their pg Jay Jackson has an especially hard time hanging onto the ball, turning the rock over 17 times in a two game stretch against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Gonzaga has five players currently scoring in double figures; Wiltjer, Sabonis, Wesley, Pangos & Bell. They are ranked #5 in the country in scoring, averaging 90 points per game. As a team they are hitting approx .400 from deep, while ranked #3 in field goal % at .548. The Zags are also ranked #3 in the nation ave. 20.2 assists per game.

Gonzaga has enough talent and depth that even if they are looking past SE Louisiana towards Arizona in the desert, this game will most likely get out of hand in a hurry. I’d expect the Zags 90 ppg scoring ave. to rise a bit. Also, Gonzaga's speed, athleticism, and defensive pressure, will in most likelihood cause this turnover prone opponent into, well, numerous turnovers.

Barring truckloads of phantom fouls, any injuries, and Flagrant 1 Bruce Lee type assaults, this game should be highly entertaining and fun. Just what the Doctor ordered leading up to the huge game against ‘Zona on Saturday. GO ZAGS!!~