Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Summer Buzz: Gonzaga Bulldogs
By Eamonn Brennan
For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject? Gonzaga . Up next? Kansas.
When you think of Gonzaga basketball, what do you think of first?
Is it plodding, physical post play? Guard-oriented efficiency? White dudes with floppy hair?
How will Gonzaga fare this season without Matt Bouldin and his hair?
OK, so that was too easy. Of course you think of white dudes with floppy hair. Gonzaga basketball players have given more to the curly overgrown dude-bro hairstyle -- which reached its popularity peak right around when I was in high school, I think -- than any school in the modern history of college hoops. The contribution is lasting and timeless. Never forget.
As it concerns basketball, though, it's not that far off. Those floppy-haired gents have also been some of the best Gonzaga players in recent memory. Dan Dickau, Adam Morrison, and Matt Bouldin -- you may recall them for their hair (and, in Morrison's case, that questionable quasi-mustache) but you also remember them for the way they've defined Gonzaga basketball in the program's decade-plus surge into the national hoops consciousness. Sharpshooting guards have made Gonzaga what it currently is.
After the 2009-10 season, Gonzaga bid farewell to Bouldin, the latest in that series. The loss is significant for more than hair: Bouldin leaves a team that now lacks a significant guard presence. So, can the Bulldogs change their style? Can the become the dominant interior force their personnel requires?
The good news is, they may not need to. Bouldin's main statistical contributions -- alongside all of his leadership qualities, which brought an unquantifiable stability to the Bulldogs in the past four years -- were his high assist rate and his solid outside shooting. The former will be hard to replicate. The latter should be easier: Breakout freshman forward Elias Harris demonstrated an underused ability to hit the 3 in 2009-10, and fellow freshman Mangisto Arop shot 47 percent from behind the line in limited use last year.
(Of course, there's also guard Steven Gray, who I somehow left out of the original version of this post. Bad mistake. After all, Gray shot better from inside the arc than did Bouldin in 2009-10, and though he wasn't as proficient a 3-point shooter, he did post a slightly better effective field goal percentage. It will be interesting to see what Gray does with a bigger role -- and presumably more shots from beyond the arc -- assuming Bouldin's departure opens things up in the backcourt.)
In 2010-11, what works will most often be in the paint. Harris and his 7-foot center counterpart Robert Sacre from a truly effective front line. Harris can score in the post, but has the versatility to spread the floor and score facing the basket, too. Sacre, meanwhile, won't be moved off the block. Once he gets the ball there, he usually gets fouled: Sacre's free-throw rate was 73.9 percent, the 36th-highest in the entire country.
Unless Gonzaga finds some hot-shooting tendencies in its incoming players -- not out of the realm of possibility, given coach Mark Few's past two recruiting classes -- this should be the new Bulldog strategy. Harris must dominate the ball, and when he draws extra attention, he needs to dump to Sacre in the post. Why fight what you can do best?
Much of this hinges on Harris' ongoing development, on his impending ability to stretch his game even further out on the floor. Otherwise, it will be easy for teams to pack a zone and tell Gonzaga to do their worst. But there are far worse personnel places to be than where Gonzaga currently is.