Gonzaga basketball has been plagued by injuries lately, and the team is now limping into WCC conference play.
With Sam Dower listed by NBC's CollegeBasketballTalk as day-to-day with a back injury and Gary Bell Jr. out with a broken hand for four to six weeks, according to Bud Withers of The Seattle Times, Gonzaga is going to have to rely on its bench to carry the load.
Beyond this, though, there are a few significant areas for improvement and a glaring weakness the Zags must address.
With such a dearth of quality non-conference wins that have protected the Zags in the past, Gonzaga must have a strong showing in the WCC if it is to make the NCAA Tournament.
Sam Dower is not happy he is not playing, and neither is Gonzaga.
What should come as a relief for the Bulldogs is that Sam Dower should return soon and could play as soon as the St. Mary’s game.
This will provide Gonzaga with the frontcourt depth it needs to be successful. While Drew Barham has filled in at power forward admirably, he does not provide the spark on offense that Dower does.
With Dower back, the Bulldogs will hope for a speedy recovery for Gary Bell Jr., who broke his hand during the win over Santa Clara. The Zags will arguably be without their best on-ball defender and a three-point gunner for the first four to six weeks of conference play.
In the Zags' first game without Gary Bell Jr., shooting guard Kyle Dranginis started in his place and received most of his minutes, according to an Associated Press report at KREM.com.
It's also important to watch out for Gerard Coleman and Angel Nunez, who are both fighting to break into a greater share of minutes with this team after transferring from Providence and Louisville, respectively.
The Bulldogs have been lacking a killer instinct on offense recently.
A team that had been averaging more than 80 points per game to start the season has not scored more than 75 points in its last four games.
A lot of this can be attributed to Sam Dower’s back injury in the first half against Kansas State.
Without Dower in the frontcourt, the Bulldogs tend to play smaller and rely heavily on jump shots and transition offense. When this strategy fails, the Bulldogs really do not have any other options offensively.
With Dower returning soon, Gonzaga must return to the inside-out offense that has been at its core for the past two seasons.
Gerard Coleman and Angel Nunez did not transfer to Gonzaga to sit on the bench behind players like Kyle Dranginis and Drew Barham.
While Dranginis and Barham have shown flashes of brilliance this season, filling in for injured starters and coming off the bench, they simply do not have the upside that Coleman and Nunez have.
Coleman’s athleticism off the bench has at times shocked other teams and has led to many runs that have put games out of reach. He has averaged 8.1 points per game in the measly 13.1 minutes per game he averages.
In just 27 minutes on the court this season, Nunez has 14 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Nunez’s length and defensive instincts are traits that make him a game changer.
Mark Few must find consistent minutes and roles for these two players who could truly shape the WCC.
Gonzaga has appeared shaky at home, and it is not surprising.
Already plagued with injuries, the Bulldogs have been challenged to play four games in just one week.
It is truly lucky that the schedule has allowed these to be home games.
That being said, the first slate of road games is coming in just a few weeks.
As the toast of the WCC, Gonzaga gets every team’s best shot and sells out every game it plays. Atmospheres are simply different for teams like Pepperdine, USF and Loyola Marymount when the Bulldogs come to play.
If Gonzaga wants to win the WCC and stake its claim as worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid, it must not lose these very winnable games on the road.
I feel like I have been hammering this one for quite some time, but Gonzaga’s greatest weakness is its inability to rebound the basketball.
The Zags rank 117th in the nation in terms of rebounds per game, and only Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower average more than five rebounds per game.
Gonzaga’s inability to secure rebounds has burned the team in both of its losses to the tune of a combined 28 offensive rebounds.
It is not a simple problem to fix, but it is imperative that the Bulldogs begin to win the rebound battle.