As March Madness steadily approaches, one has to wonder how the roller-coaster ride of a season for Gonzaga will end. December proved to be very bleak for the Bulldogs, dropping four of their seven games in the month. Losses to Arizona, UConn, Portland State, and Utah became the talk of the new year as the Zags quickly dropped from the Top 25.
It seemed that the potential dream season had finally fallen apart. A heart-wrenching 3-pointer from A.J. Price at the end of regulation in the UConn game left Gonzaga fans stunned. The stunned feeling from the Connecticut game became much stronger as the Bulldogs fell to Portland State just three days later.
However, a win against Tennessee and a solid start to conference play seemed to be bringing the Zags back to life. Patty Mills or no Patty Mills, the Bulldogs were able to pull out a big win against St. Mary's Thursday, and they were able to hold off a late surge by San Diego Saturday to remain undefeated in the WCC.
A question still seems to linger as it pertains to Gonzaga: What will it take for them to make a strong and serious run at the championship come March? Here are my top five keys to Gonzaga adding to the Madness in March:
5. Matt Bouldin needs to take over as the team leader. Bouldin is one of the top three scorers on the team based on points per game, and his ability to make things happen is a huge plus to their offense. His ball skills and decision-making have improved drastically since his first two years with the Zags, and they seem to get better and better each game. Gonzaga needs him to step up and be the team leader and motivator.
4. Josh Heytvelt needs to play like his size while in the post. Heytvelt is in the best shape of his life now that no injuries are pestering him, proving to be a very agile and versatile athlete. He is one of the top long-distance shooting big men in the nation, and seems to sink one or two 3-pointers in almost every game. On the defensive side of the ball, he is very aggressive and very tough, but on the offensive side of the ball he appears to be avoiding some of the contact. For Gonzaga to be successful, Heytvelt needs to be the post threat everyone knows he is, and he needs to be strong inside.
3. Ira Brown needs to be utilized more frequently. Although Brown does not get many minutes, he brings a spark to both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Averaging a little over 10 minutes a game, Ira gets about three points and three rebounds a game. He is also fourth on the team with nine blocks. He is tied with Steven Gray in that category, but has played 347 less minutes. His size and strength make him a threat and a weapon. Ten minutes is not enough for Ira Brown, especially with Robert Sacre having an injury-filled season.
2. Austin Daye needs to be confident at all times. Daye is the purest all-around shooter on the team, even though Gray is the best long-range shooter, and he must understand that his scoring is needed. He is averaging just under 14 points a game, but he has the potential for so much more. He leads the team in blocks and rebounds, proving that he is a solid defensive big man. At times during many games, Austin gets upset or down on himself and it leads him into multiple temporary slumps. With a little extra confidence here and there, Daye could be the buzz-cut version of Adam Morrison.
1. The Speed of Jeremy Pargo and Demetri Goodson needs to create more mismatches on offense. With simple picks and screens, big men can be switched on to guard one of the Zags' point guards. Either of them can blow past a majority of defenders, leaving them open driving lanes or space to draw in defenders and dish a pass to Heytvelt or Daye. Pargo frequently takes poor shots when he is struggling on offense and an easy lay-up could cause his struggles to disappear. Steven Gray is one of the top shooters in the nation when he has a little time to set up, and Pargo or Goodson entering the lane could free him up for more open shots also.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs can look like a Top 10 team at times and a Top 50 in others. By using these keys, they could unlock quite a season and tournament. Obviously a list could be made spanning the height of Will Foster (7-foot-5) on what it takes for a team to make a long run in the NCAA Tournament, but these five in particular could make this team a Top 10 team once again.
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