I began writing this article last night fuming, so I decided it was probably best to let it sit, sleep on it and look it over in the morning. Today, I am still upset but not fuming.
Would have it been nice to beat Dayton? Of course. Would it have been nice to win the tournament? Of course. But Dayton exposed the Gonzaga basketball team’s weaknesses and for that I have taken a few positives out of last night’s loss.
Finding ways to play with out a front-court
Eventually with the lack of front-court depth, Gonzaga was going to run into trouble. Of course this had to happen in a huge tournament, versus a weak non-conference opponent, but nonetheless it happened.
The positive I am taking from this is that the Zags have to learn to play without their bigs and with foul trouble. At the end of the game it was almost comical seeing Drew Barham and Kyle Dranginis playing down low for Gonzaga, and how small the lineup was.
The Zags had physically no other true post players to plug in there. Ryan Edwards, the big 7-footer, is out with tonsillitis, and Angel Nunez, the transfer from Louisville, is not eligible until mid December. So, Mark Few had his hands tied down the stretch.
Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski played well, but both fouling out was a huge blow especially when Gonzaga had the size advantage. These big men have to find ways to stay out of foul trouble. Their value to the team is too high for them to both foul out. I understood Dower’s last foul, trying to protect as easy dunk that would have put the team down by 9, but Karnowski continues to make dumb fouls and decisions. After Dower was gone, he should have known at all costs stay in the game, he couldn’t do it.
That was a huge blow, but, this could be good experience for the Zags, knowing what they have to do when they play small. They will have this game to look back on and see what they need to do in this situation. Hopefully it gives the team a better feeling that when they are in a small lineup like that, they will know what to do because unfortunately this will happen again this season.
What to do when the threes don’t fall
I have said this in previous posts; this team scares me because of the amount of threes they take. It is more reliable and a higher percentage shot to throw the ball inside. However, Gonzaga had been so hot from behind the arc and it clearly is a major formula on this team.
It seemed like the two things that could kill Gonzaga would be getting the big men in foul trouble, and missing threes. Well, both happened last night and it resulted in a loss. Gonzaga shot 5 of 19 from three last night, way below their season average.
Coming into last night’s game, the Zags had been averaging over 11 three pointers. So what did they do when the shots weren’t going down?
At first, it seemed to me that the team was almost shell shocked, especially in the second half. Gonzaga has become accustomed to seeing these shots go down, and they weren’t. There were periods of times when it seemed like Gonzaga could not get a good shot off or create a shot.
So what is the positive out of this? This team got experience trying to win a tight game, down the stretch and throughout the second half without relying on the three. There will be times throughout this long season that Gonzaga will have other games like this. They will miss shots again and will have to find someway to get to the basket and get easy buckets. Last night was the first taste of this.
It is good early in the season to see your flaws and on the fly try to deal with them. Kevin Pangos finally figured out that instead of jacking up threes he could get fouled and get to the basket. Gary Bell Jr. had a few nice drives to the basket. Coleman sliced to the lane at the end for a few nice finishes. Pangos still found a way to get 27 even on a bad shooting night. When the shots don’t fall, Gonzaga has to find a plan B. This should be a wake up call against the flyers and in the long run it will be good for the Zags.
Honestly, the one thing I am most upset about after the loss, is not the fact that a lack of depth was shown, or that the Bulldogs didn’t make shots, but the fact that Gonzaga lost the potential to play two ranked teams.
Biggest disappointment: potential of schedule
If Gonzaga would have beat Dayton last night, they would have matched up with Baylor today, and possibly Syracuse in the finals tomorrow. The loss to Dayton is not what hurts the Zags. They are a good solid team that will be in the tournament this year and you have to give them credit for how they came back from 16 points down. But, the fact that Gonzaga who has a weak schedule this year lost out on playing two solid, ranked programs hurts.
Gonzaga’s strength of schedule will take a hit and so will their tournament resume. The possibility of beating Baylor or beating both Baylor and Syracuse could have really helped a weak resume. Now the Zags will really have to capitalize on beating Memphis in February as well as taking care on business in conference. This Gonzaga team is a very good team, but could have used a couple more games against ranked opponents.
It is just the first loss of the season and is nothing to be too upset about. This team has flaws that have been known but not exploited until last night. Somehow they will have to find ways to play with small lineups, and somehow when the shots aren’t following, they will have to find other ways to score.
At this point in this program’s history, a Maui Invitational title is not important. Yes, it would be a nice thing to have, and it may carry some bragging rights with it, but the only thing that matters is March. If this team has any chance to do anything in March, seeing their flaws now is a good thing. I would much rather have a loss in November, and have several months to find ways to cover or work with the flaws of the team, then not be tested and come tournament time be one and done.
Hopefully this trip will be a wake up call for this Gonzaga team and it gives them some experience on how to play in different situations. Dayton was a step up in competition, and even with three players fouled out, Gonzaga almost pulled out a victory. This is a long, long season and while the loss stings, as long as this team is prepared for March that is the only thing that matters.
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