As was the case in 2003, the Gonzaga Bulldogs’ basketball season came to an end at the hands of the West region’s #1 seed. Only this time it wasn’t anywhere near as close.
The Syracuse Orange were #1 in the country most of the year, undefeated outside the Big East, and put the full power of its Deathstar on display in front of a de facto home crowd in Buffalo.
Now comes a full offseason of teeth-gnashing and wondering aloud on sports radio whether Mark Few has any business staying here, and Elias Harris will probably wonder aloud about the NBA (Austin Daye? Adam Morrison?), as well as the given what-might-have-been against Syracuse. There actually is a legitimate question in there as abdiculous (new term of the day) as calling for Few’s dismissal is, believe it or not.
In the end the Zags’ biggest problem may not have been their inexplicable decision to go away from their interior game and try and match Syracuse three-for-three, their lack of perimeter defense once they got in that hole, nor Matt Bouldin’s failure to make an impact in his final game, but their seed altogether.
And not just because no eight-seed lasted beyond the first weekend (Texas and UNLV both were nipped at the last second, and Wake Forest was as competitive as Gonzaga was). Had the hiccup losses to Loyola and San Francisco not happened, the Zags may or may not have been staying in Spokane, but certainly wouldn’t have been dropped to an eight.
So from here, it’s about making sure things like this don’t happen again.
One, the addition of Sam Dower, who redshirted this year, should help: Dower, Harris, and Robert Sacre should restore the Zags’ inside presence, as it was clear the three-guard set wasn’t doing so. Kelly Olynyk is another option, but Olynyk needs to bulk up before he can even think about starting.
Two, the guards need to toughen up: Much as I hate complainers, part of me actually did like to see G.J. Vilarino complaining about his lack of minutes this year. He’s ready to ball, and that’s a good thing, because all Demetri Goodson has shown is that he clearly has no business starting on an NCAA Tournament team. Gray can go back to the 2. Grant Gibbs is also another option.
Three, restocking the bench: Losing Manny Arop definitely hurt, but good lord what was Bol Kong doing? Just when GU looked to have a pretty nice second unit they essentially draw a blank against FSU and Syracuse.
And the one thing no one wants to admit, but it has to be considered,
Upgrade the recruiting: As I said a couple weeks ago, Gonzaga’s success is no longer about just winning the WCC, it’s about competing against the top teams and making strong tourney runs (that’s precisely why over the next week you’ll have grousing). I think Few gets that message, and Vilarino, Dower and Harris represent that. It needs to be maintained.
As a side, and I’ll bring this up in another article this week, does anybody really believe Few would have a greater shot to win at the University of Phil Knight, a.k.a. Oregon, as was suggested on the Zags’ postgame today? For starters while they’ve had Elite Eight and Sweet 16 runs in the last decade they’ve also had a bunch of underachieving seasons, and this is with NBA talent such as Luke Ridnour, Aaron Brooks, Malik Hairston, and Tajuan Porter passing through the great swoosh.
So the future of Gonzaga basketball is not bleak by any means, and by no means was this season a failure. As today indicated though, there is work to do.
But even the slightest hint of disappointment shows that Gonzaga has reached another level.