Zags the Real Deal

 With Australian eyes keenly cast upon the St Mary’s Gaels, the boys from Moraga will be eager for a successful second half of the season if they are to contend with WCC Rivals and 10th ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs.
 
Coming off their first straight-up conference title win since 1997, the Gaels went into this season with high hopes of taking out the title once again, but they knew one team would be hungry to stand in their way. And before their opening game of the opening season back in November last year, the Bulldogs probably expected the Gaels to be right on their heels for the entire season. Unfortunately for St Mary’s though, not everything has gone exactly to script.
 
Not only have the Gaels dropped three games that they probably would have gone into as favourites, but the Zags have completely jumped out of the blocks and immediately sent a brutal message to the college basketball landscape that they are one team not to be messed with. With a current AP Ranking of 10, the Zags have only dropped one game from their first 15 and that came early last month in a tight scrap against 13th ranked Illinois. 
 
To pinpoint the reason behind Gonzaga’s explosion into the 2012-13 season, it’s best to start by looking at their front court; one of the best in the entire nation. 7’0″ Junior Kelly Olynyk and 6’8″ Senior Elias Harris have dominated their opponents in the paint averaging 15.8PPG and 15.1PPG respectively with a FG% of 65% and 52%. Topping the scales at 238lbs for Olynyk and 239lbs for Harris, the duo are also strong on the glass, averaging 7.1RPG and 6.3RPG respectively.
 
Guys like 6’9″ Junior Sam Dower and 7’1″ Polish Freshman Przemek Karnowski (7.7PPG) provide more than capable support off the bench. That’s the epitome of the Bulldogs; their work ethic extends deep into the bench and every player knows what their role is and what they must to in order for them as an individual to benefit the team as a whole.
 
The biggest advantage about having such talented and athletic big men is being able to utilise them when the guards are having an off day offensively. That inside presence is crucial especially in big time clashes against big time opponents.
 
Their knowledge of each others game, behind the coaching of Mark Few, and their ability to share the ball around and allow everyone to get involved in the game is one of the best in the nation. Even though the Zags have no player averaging over 16PPG, they have four averaging double figures in Olynyk, Harris, Pangos and Bell, and are ranked 15th in the nation for PPG with 80.7. Not only this, but with a FG% of 51% that ranks them 3rd in the nation, the Zags regularly get good looks at the basket.
 
The best way to compliment a solid front court is with a solid back court, and the Zags are no pushovers when it comes to their smaller guys either. Lead by Canadian sophomore Kevin Pangos (12.1PPG, 3.8APG), the Zags guards have the ability to create space and make plays out of next to nothing. The other guard who also shows great maturity in his gameplay for only a sophomore is Gary Bell Jr (10.0PPG, 2.1APG). This maturity and natural leadership is a common trait in Zags players; team players who are willing to sacrifice the game to get the W. And it shows.
 
To show what an unselfish team the Bulldogs are, they are ranked 38th in the entire nation in APG (15.9). It’s one thing having great shooters from beyond the arc and solid big men in the paint, but to be able to utilise them the way Few has is really a testament to the team and Few’s coaching ability. His career record since he took up the job in 1999 of 357-91 speaks for exactly that. Each year, Few seems to be able to get the best, both from a skills and leadership stand point, out of all of his players. You know that if you’re a part of this program, and you don’t have that prerequisite head-screwed-on-right attitude, then Few and his coaching staff will make sure that you’re moulded into the model Zag before you step onto the hardwood on gameday.
 
The Zags are expected to dominate conference play every year; and this year is no different. The simple fact that these guys have more experience playing in the bigger games; having been a regular in the mid-rounds of the Big Dance as well as always giving themselves a strong out of conference schedule, the Zags boys always seem to have not only a physical edge, but a mental edge too. They’ve been there, done that. They know what’s required to win. They believe in themselves and they believe in their team. If they manage to continue their form throughout the rest of conference play, they should have the WCC wrapped up, and I’m certain that they will shake up March Madness. So do yourselves a favour, when you see their name in any of your many brackets in a couple of months time, really think hard about this team getting a solid run to the Sweet 16 and even the Elite 8. They have the personel, they have the leadership, they have the experience. The next thing to do is to just go out there and get it done. 

January 9th 2013
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