Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Zags are Getting Defensive

In the early years of the Mark Few era, Gonzaga was never known as an outstanding defensive team. This trend continued during the time of Adam Morrison when the Zags relied on outscoring the opposition and rarely on making defensive stops. In the first two games of this young season, we have seen some outstanding defensive performances. Granted, the two games that Gonzaga has played will probably be their two easiest games this season. No matter how you cut it, though, 11 points in the first half is a stat that is hard to ignore. The defensive improvements that we have seen thus far this season are not exclusive to one factor or individual, but rather a collective team effort led by outstanding coaching. Here are a few of the factors we have been exceptionally happy with...

  • The major change that has driven this transformation is the arrival of Ray Giacoletti. Ray has brought a kind of intensity that hasn't been seen around these parts for years. Like we talked about on 1510 KGA last night, he is a no BS guy. He finds it absolutely imperative that everyone plays hard nosed every play and the team is really starting to play the way he coaches. In this time in college basketball, Gonzaga cannot win a national championship with only offense and that was a big thing holding them back for many years. If the game was close, the Zags struggled to get stops. With Ray in place here at Gonzaga, this team should not have any trouble making the defensive play. When the former Utah coach was let go, he seemed like an outstanding fit for the Zags. Gonzaga was a running team and Giacoletti was about stops. In fact when he was at Utah, he was quoted as saying:
"The first thing we want to do is establish a tone on the defensive end of the floor. In college basketball today, you have to get stops . . . Everybody wants to run these days, and we do, too. We want to push it hard and take advantage of opportunities.

  • There have been a number of excellent individual performances thus far and a major one that we have seen is the defensive efforts coming from the guard position. Coming into this season, many Gonzaga fans believed that Steven Gray would replace Matt Bouldin in the starting lineup. One major reason of this was because Gray was the better defender. During his first two years at Gonzaga, Bouldin was not a great defender. He always seemed to be a step slow and in games against quick guards, he hurt the Zags. Just by looking at Matt now, you can see that he has trimmed down and appears to be much quicker on his feet. He has played some outstanding defense and is flying around out there and forcing steals, something we never saw too much out of Matt in his first two seasons. Jeremy Pargo has always been a pretty solid defender and he has continued that thus far. The arrival of Demetri Goodson has been a blessing. He is an absolute ball hawk and is constantly hounding the ball handler. He is the type of player that the other team hates because his intensity on the defensive side of the ball is largely unmatched. I would have to think that Meech is the player that Ray Giacoletti could design if he was able to. He is a fast guard that can get stops but can also run on offense, something that Ray is dedicated to.
  • One thing that a coach can only recruit and not coach is length and Gonzaga is one of the most 'long' teams in the nation. Led by Austin Daye, Micah Downs, and Josh Heytvelt this team is presenting all sorts of nightmares for the opposition. Austin's length is sometimes startling. Putting him on the inbounds passer has to be the opposing team's nightmare. Numerous times, Daye has just plucked the inbounds pass out of the air and taken it the other way. Another benefit of the amazing athleticism that Daye, Downs, and Heytvelt have is their ability to block shots. The Zags blocked 10 shots in the first game and added four more against the Vandals. Their ability to play the ball in the air is matched only by a few other front lines and their overall quickness helps them get to the shooter to close out.
  • Sticking with the guys up front, a huge part of our success so far has been the rebounding. Through two games, Gonzaga has out rebounded the opponent 91-58. Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt have accounted for 37% of those rebounds thus far. This is the stat that makes me the most excited about this year. In the past, we have seen guys like Matt Bouldin and Jeremy Pargo or even Micah Downs lead the team in rebounding. There is no reason why Austin and Josh can't average a double-double. For this team to succeed, these two have to dedicate themselves to dominating the boards and getting the ball out to our guards to run. Otherwise, the Zags will have to fall into a more half court game, which is a foreign thought to this running team. Another huge key to this season is the presence of Ira Brown. He is the quintessential rebounder. Last game he didn't even attempt a shot but had four rebounds. He had four in the first game as well and if you watch him, you know he can bang around down there against whoever. Even if he doesn't pull the board down, he can clear some space for his teammates. Get ready for Ira because he is going to play some serious minutes this season.
  • What always bothered me about the last few seasons for Gonzaga was the amount of stupid fouls we committed in the post. Our post men in the past were often outmatched and would resort to just banging around without a cause. This often hurt Gonzaga on key defensive plays and sent the other team to the line. It's hard for any team to outmatch the size of Gonzaga this year and this team has an extremely smart basketball IQ. Yes, dumb fouls are a part of college basketball (see Arizona-UAB) but this years team is a smart and athletic bunch and that should help them avoid the stupid foul. I would rather have our team play solid, smart defense as opposed to the "make them earn it at the line" strategy. Fouls often interrupt the flow of the game and give the opposing team the momentum and too many times we have seen Gonzaga players foul the opponent only to give them an opportunity for a three-point play. Thus far, the total foul count is down and that is a trend that I think could be telling as the season plays itself out.
  • Their biggest critic, Mark Few, has even been delightfully surprised by this team's commitment on the defensive side of the bal:
“I was totally, incredibly pleased with how they took our game plan and how they took the challenge of setting the tone with our defense, we talked about doing it the last couple days and they took it to heart.”

No comments: