Gonzaga Basketball: 5 Ways Bulldogs Must Improve Before March
Gonzaga basketball showed many crucial weaknesses in the recent loss to Memphis, and whether or not the team is capable of making these improvements will dictate how the team does leading up to March Madness and beyond.
The weaknesses demonstrated in the Memphis game are demonstrative of the greater trends of the past 10 games.
The Bulldogs are without a signature win, and if they want to avoid the bubble come Selection Sunday, there are some key improvements that must be made to avoid dropping another game.
Rebounding the Basketball
Gonzaga continued to struggle rebounding the basketball against Memphis.
It is incredibly difficult to win a game when the opposing team wins the rebounding battle 48-20.
What is most concerning about Gonzaga’s lack of rebounding efforts is that it led to 20 offensive rebounds for Memphis. These offensive rebounds create valuable second-chance opportunities, which can allow a team to come from behind in the manner Memphis did.
While many will be quick to point the finger at center Przemek Karnowski, it is the lack of rebounding out of Gonzaga’s undersized guards that paints the true portrait as to the cause of the Bulldogs' rebounding woes.
Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Gonzaga's other guards must crash the boards to greater success moving forward.
Getting Pangos Healthy
Kevin Pangos has had nagging issues with turf toe throughout the season, but according to Jim Meehan of The Spokesman-Review, he has recently aggravated an existing ankle injury.
Pangos’ injuries have noticeably affected his play on the court. Most notable are his dipping shooting numbers.
In the past four games, Pangos is shooting 7-of-33 from the field—or 21.2 percent. Pangos is also shooting 21.9 percent from beyond the arc, which is down from his average of 42.1 percent.
Pangos’ inability to get into the lane, make cuts and come quickly off screens has inhibited his ability to score and create for teammates.
Given his injury, Pangos has been limited to the role of jump-shooter.
Given his poor shooting averages, this is not all that helpful.
As the team’s leading scorer, it is of the utmost importance that he is able to get healthy down the stretch to return to the level of play he exhibited to begin the season.
Closing out Games
Gonzaga’s loss to Memphis came at the hands of a 17-2 Tigers run to close out the final minutes of the game.
The same inability to close out games was seen after the Bulldogs allowed USD and Portland to hang around long enough to push the result to the final minute of the contest.
In the past two games, Gonzaga has been outscored 81-60 in the second half.
Gonzaga simply cannot allow these types of late-game runs that turn seemingly easy wins into stressful, scrambling victories—or, in the case of the Memphis game, a debilitating loss.
It may be the lack of a true go-to scoring option, the plethora of second-chance points given to opponents or just the lack of a killer mentality backed by a vocal leader in the huddle.
Whatever is keeping the Bulldogs from closing out opponents needs to be fixed. If it's not, the team is going to suffer the same fate suffered at Memphis on a much larger stage in the NCAA tournament.
Live by the Jump Shot, Die by the Jump Shot
Gonzaga’s strategy against Memphis was to work the ball into the paint to Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower.
This strategy was incredibly effective as the two big men combined for 30 points.
However, the Bulldogs went away from this strategy toward the end of the second half and began to settle for contested jump shots instead of the high-percentage shots in the paint that had fueled the team all game long.
This has been a rather frustrating trend over the span of this season. The offense works well when the team plays inside-out, but it stalls when it tries to play outside-in basketball.
Mark Few must continue to impress on his players the importance of feeding the post early in the shot clock to get high-percentage shots through the frontcourt or through kick-outs for open jump shots.
Gonzaga's defensive liability is on the perimeter.
Specifically, I am referring to David Stockton.
Stockton, a contributor and facilitator on offense, typically uses his speed to make up for his lack of height and length.
However, in the past few contests, it has become obvious that he is unable to guard larger guards who are capable of shooting over him and pushing through him to penetrate into the lane.
Players such as Joe Jackson, Johnny Dee and and Bryce Pressley have taken advantage of their matchup against the smaller Stockton.
Mark Few must find a healthier balance between Stockton's abilities on offense as compared to his incredible weakness at guarding the perimeter.