Gonzaga basketball is far from reaching its peak after two straight losses to WCC foes BYU and USD. However, the lessons learned from these past two defeats illuminate a blueprint to better basketball heading into the postseason.
Gonzaga has played tight on offense and the recent rotation has marginalized players who have shown great promise all season long.
The Bulldogs must return to the strategy that gave them the best success in the nonconference schedule and the early parts of WCC play.
In the past two games, Gonzaga has not exceeded 66 points.
Given this is nearly 12 points per game fewer than the team averages, clearly the game plan exhibited recently has not worked.
Gonzaga plays best when it is pushing the ball in transition and scoring in the early part of the shot clock.
With a small backcourt that has had trouble getting into the lane after a series of nagging injuries, Gonzaga is only able to score in the post or by perimeter jump shooting.
However, when Sam Dower Jr. and Przemek Karnowski do not share the floor, there is no high-low option for the Bulldogs to exploit, and opposing defenses have been content with doubling the post and denying entry passes.
This leaves the Bulldogs to settle for perimeter shooting, and this team can just as easily die by the jump shot as it can live by the jump shot.
If the Zags, a squad that is relatively deep in the backcourt, can push the ball more and rely less on half-court sets that shift dramatically based on who is on the floor, offensive numbers should go up.
What is wrong with Kevin Pangos?
It is true he has been suffering from turf toe and nagging ankle problems, but in the past five games, Pangos is shooting just 36.5 percent from the field.
More staggering is that Pangos, usually considered among the top three point-gunners in the country, is shooting a lowly 31.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Many believe the success that Pangos celebrated early on in the season was due to David Stockton taking over the point guard role, which allowed Pangos to move to shooting guard and focus more on scoring.
Pangos, however, is most devastating on offense when he is running the show. With the ability to change speeds and armed with a killer first step, Pangos is able to get into the lane and is a great pick-and-roll player.
If, in the short term, Pangos is not going to be able to contribute with his scoring, it makes sense to allow him to contribute more as a distributor.
Giving Pangos more minutes at the point guard position could jump start his scoring as he focuses less on getting his own shot and more on creating for others.
Gonzaga has a very unbalanced roster this season. Its backcourt is much deeper than its frontcourt.
In fact, several members of the frontcourt, Drew Barham, Luke Meikle, and occasional power forward Kyle Dranginis, would actually be assigned to the backcourt in any other year.
If Gonzaga gets a bid to the NCAA tournament, it will be facing teams with physical backcourts that far outmeasure the guards the Bulldogs have faced in the WCC.
Stockton has had a great career as a Gonzaga Bulldog, but if Mark Few wants to help his team peak moving forward, he must give Dranginis more of Stockton’s minutes in the rotation. Dranginis, a 6’5” shooting guard from Nampa, Idaho, has been a bright spot for the Bulldogs this season.
He started for Gary Bell Jr. when he was injured earlier this season, and his play during that stretch proved he could thrive in a starting role.
The bottom line is that Dranginis provides what Stockton cannot: better shooting, better defense and better chemistry in the backcourt.
Another player who should be worked into the rotation more often is Gerard Coleman, but unlike Dranginis, Coleman's skill set is better used in certain situations.
Coleman is an absolute lightning rod of energy and athleticism. Despite playing quality minutes and keeping the Bulldogs in the BYU game, he played just four minutes against USD two days later.
Coleman is the type of athlete who could have overwhelmed the small backcourt of Johnny Dee and Christopher Anderson for USD, and he could have the effect on most teams if he gets the opportunity come March.
I criticized Coleman just a few weeks ago for his inability to do anything but drive to the basket.
Since that time, though, there has been a noticeable change in his effort on defense and his ability to run the offense more efficiently with his teammates.
He is no longer a black hole on offense as he has been more prone to pass to his teammates and run the offense.
When Coleman is firing on all cylinders with his teammates, he is able to play in control, score and find shots for others in a way that makes him nearly impossible to defend.