#15 – Gonzaga Bulldogs College Basketball Preview & PredictionsSince 1995, the Gonzaga Bulldogs (27-7, 12-2 WCC) have made 13 NCAA Tournament appearances; they have not missed one since 1999. The furthest the Zags have ever gone is to the Elite Eight. That happened once in 1999. Since 1994, they have won their regular season conference championship 14 times, missing the title in 1995 and 1997, and they have won the West Coast Conference Tournament 10 times. Last year, they took both WCC titles and then beat Florida State in round one of the NCAA Tournament 67-60. Then the Bulldogs met Syracuse in the second round; they lost to the Orange 87-65. This year, it looks to be more of the same for the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs tend to be one of those teams that always has a prodigious scoring machine on the roster. This season there are at least two and one of them is in the frontcourt. Power forward Elias Harris (6-8, 215 lbs., SO, #20, 14.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.1 apg, 29.4 mpg, .547 FG, .451 3PT, .676 FT), who is from Germany, was so good last season that he won the WCC Newcomer of the Year Award. Yes, he can hit from inside, rebound, hook it in with his back to the net and knock it in from downtown. Nationally, he was 84th in effective field goal percentage and 98th in true scoring percentage. Harris was also good at drawing fouls, garnering 5.5 per 40 minutes played, which ranked him 220th. He was exceptional in his first season and should be even better in his second.
Center Robert Sacre (7-0, 247 lbs., JR, #00, 10.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.6 apg, 25.3 mpg, .526 FG, .100 3PT, .629 FT) is a dynamic scorer, rebounder and shot blocker. He earned a shot blocking mark of 7.7%, which was 64th nationally. In the area of fouls drawn per 40 minutes, the power forward averaged 5.7 (166th). A pure inside scorer, he was difficult to stop. Together Harris and Sacre created a formidable frontcourt duo.
The Zags play two in the front and therein the back. One guard who has departed, Matt Bouldin, will be missed. Bouldin, the sixth all-time scorer in school history, averaged 15.6 PPG, 4.7 rpg, and 4.0 APG. The talented combo guard possessed a high basketball IQ and as accomplished at distributing the ball and finishing.
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The point man this year appears to be junior college newcomer Marquise Carter. Carter, who is 6-4, 185 pounds, is known for being a formidable on-court leader. He pushes the ball up the court and is able to set the play and get his teammates involved. At Three Rivers Community College in Missouri, he averaged 17.2 PPG and 5.5 APG. Last season, he hit .391 from downtown and .846 from the penalty stripe. He’ll be an important part of this team’s offensive punch.
Two vets return to fill out the backcourt—Steven Gray (6-5, 208 lbs., SR, #41, 13.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.9 apg, 31.9 mpg, .461 FG, .329 3PT, .778 FT) and Demetri Goodson (5-11, 164 lbs., JR, #3, 6.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.8 apg, 25.6 mpg, .470 FG, .138 3PT, .561 FT). Gray is a decent scorer, but he suffers from inconsistency. He’s also a solid, tough defender, an able attacker on offense, going to the hoop and finishing the play and a sound assist man.
Goodson certainly has trouble shooting from the outside, but is a pesky defender and on offense a threat to go coast-to-coast when the floor opens up. For Goodson this may be a make or break year. The Zags need more production from him when it comes to both volume and consistency. His minutes could suffer if he can’t take it to the next level.
Coming off the bench for Gonzaga are some premium players. Forward Kelly Olynk (6-11, 215 lbs., SO, #13, 3.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.8 apg, 12.3 mpg, .500 FG, .222 3PT, .596 FT) is a sophomore wing who can score points. Redshirted freshman Sam Dower, who stands 6-9 and weighs 228 pounds, could have played last season but the Zags were heavy with front men. He offers a solid jump hook and can also connect from downtown. Dower is a versatile player who brings a lot to the court and will certainly contribute this season.
In the guard spots, there are some talented freshmen ready to come off the bench and contribute, including 6-6, 180-pound Mathis Monninghoff and 6-4, 190-pound Mathis Keita. Monninghoff, from Germany, offers athleticism, while Keita, from France, is a defensive minded combo guard. For outside shooting, freshman Keegan Hyland is the man. His shooting ability will allow the Bulldogs to stretch defenses.
Gonzaga had a fairly balanced team with an offensive efficiency of 110.6 (47th) and defensive efficiency of 94.7 (66th). The club’s effective field goal percentage, which was ranked 18th nationally, stood at 54.1%. The Zags were amazingly accurate when shooting twos as they put in 54.4%, ranking them 7th in the country. In terms of garnering points from threes versus twos, it was from two-point range that they collected a hefty percentage of their points—55.6% (77th). Compare that to earning just 21.1% of their points from threes. That stat put them 309th in the nation in that category. In fact, they were one of the few top clubs that got a higher percentage of their points from frees, 23.3 (63rd), than threes. That was despite the fact that they were ranked 250th in free throw percentage, hitting 66.7%. Their three-point completion rate was the team’s lowest in history and its free throw completion rate was at a 14-year low. Upticks in both of those areas are desperately needed.
On defense, the bulldogs were an overall solid but not spectacular rebounding team, and they ably defended against field goals as opponents effective field goal percentage was just 46.8% and they hit only 44.8% (53rd) of their twos. Steal and block percentages were mediocre.
Last year, head coach Mark Few (291-73 in 11 years at Gonzaga and overall) once again managed to have his team finish first in the WCC regular season and capture the tournament championship. Few’s teams play decent defense and know how to shoot. Usually they shoot well from all parts of the court, but last year’s team was limited to being effective with twos only. They are often very capable in stretching defenses and finding the open shot.
Few is also an able recruiter. His biggest problem this season will be filling the gap left by WCC Player of the Year Matt Bouldin. Bouldin did it on both ends, leading the team in assists, points and steals. The good news for Few is that his other four starters are back and he has some ready-to-go freshmen onboard.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs should once again win the WCC and once again they will go to the Big Dance. Always a favorite amongst a host of fans, Gonzaga is still trying to get to the next level—the Final Four. Even a return to the Elite Eight would be welcomed as in three of the last four tournaments the Zags have been eliminated in either the first or second rounds. This Gonzaga Bulldogs start as the 15th ranked team in the nation.
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