Gonzaga basketball is in the midst of a rare rebuilding year, and after a season of very few setbacks that culminated in the program’s first time atop the college basketball rankings, it is understandable that many Gonzaga fans are frustrated with this season.
That being said, this has not been a terrible season by any account. Yes, there are some warning indicators for fans to be aware of, but there is also a lot of room for optimism in Spokane.
One of the absolute bright spots this season has been the performance of Przemek Karnowski. Given the starting role he has had to step into as a sophomore, it can be said that Karnowski has played with maturity beyond his years.
Karnowski is one of two true centers on the roster, and despite having trouble avoiding fouls early in the season, he has been averaging just a foul every 10 minutes.
With each game played, Karnowski's confidence, court awareness and maturity appear to grow exponentially.
He is already averaging 10.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, and I believe that he is truly only scratching the surface.
A lot of Gonzaga’s struggles this season can be pretty well attributed to corresponding injuries.
The loss to Kansas State came with Sam Dower missing the second half with what appeared to be a rather gruesome back injury. While his time missed bordered on miraculous given the initial reactions from those on scene, it can be said with some certainty that the Zags could have certainly used Dower in that second half.
The bigger loss, or at least the loss that has taken a greater toll in terms of overall time lost, has been that of Gary Bell Jr. Having broken his hand in the first half of the the win over Santa Clara, Bell has missed four games thus far, and the predominant thought is that he may not return until the February 8th matchup with Memphis.
This will account for 12 missed games from a player that had broken out offensively and is needed desperately to defend the perimeter. Simply put, this Gonzaga team will not go anywhere come March if Gary Bell Jr. does not return at 100 percent.
Gonzaga’s nonconference record is typically bolstered by solid wins against power-conference opponents. However, this season, the Bulldogs were unable to secure any such wins.
The main culprit for this possibly catastrophic turn of events was Gonzaga’s participation in the Maui Invitational.
At first glance, the field looked open for the taking, and many predicted that the Bulldogs could leave Maui with wins over Dayton and Baylor, and even a possible win over Syracuse.
The Zags were upset in the first round by Dayton, which ended any possibility for a top-tier win, and in fact, winning the next two games over Arkansas and Chaminade hurt Gonzaga's RPI more than losing against Baylor or Syracuse would have.
Should the Bulldogs find themselves without the automatic bid from the WCC into the NCAA tournament, this missed opportunity could very well be to blame.
Gonzaga and St. Mary’s has been characterized as one of the best rivalries on the West Coast and in all of college basketball over the past few seasons.
The animosity between these two programs has been well-documented, and each team has spawned “villains” such as Omar Samham, Robert Sacre, Matthew Dellavedova and Kevin Pangos.
In a year when Gonzaga is weakened and the WCC is truly open for the taking, there was an assumption that St. Mary’s could step into the ring and knock the Zags out early.
That was not the case when St. Mary’s visited Gonzaga, as the Bulldogs trounced the Gaels, 73-51.
This proved that Gonzaga will always play up for its rivals, but unfortunately, it may have allowed for a pretty stellar letdown just a week later.
The aforementioned letdown came against the Portland Pilots.
Just let that sink in for a second.
This is the same Portland Pilots program that had not defeated Gonzaga in 20 straight attempts. In fact, the last time Portland had defeated Gonzaga, the Bulldogs were playing at the “Old Kennel” in the Martin Centre.
Nearly all of Gonzaga’s players played abysmally. While this can in part be attributed to a rather nasty flu bug that had made its way throughout the team, the reason the team came up short can be better defined by two statistics.
Gonzaga allowed 11 offensive rebounds to the Pilots. Despite having the two tallest players on the floor, Gonzaga’s team rebounding was awful.
Secondly, the Pilots were allowed to make eight three-pointers. The experience of watching this game was particularly rough considering that many of those three-point shots were only partially contested and came in the context of stopping Gonzaga runs.
This is easily the low point of the season, and beyond that, it is probably the lowest point the Gonzaga program has been at over the past few years.
The hope here is that the team can get healthy and rally behind this poor performance to bounce back in the next few games.