After losing to Kansas State a few weeks back, the Zags looked lost, especially after losing one of their best players in Sam Dower Jr. Gonzaga seemed to be looking for an identity, and were with out Dower Jr. for the first time.
Now fast forward a few weeks later, and after a 4 game winning streak to start conference play, the Zags look like they are finding their edge once again.
Losing Gary Bell Jr. to a broken hand looked as if the Zags would be in a world of trouble without Bell Jr. and Dower Jr. However the emergence of key role players may have shifted the Bulldogs thinking.
In their 4 game wining streak, Gonzaga has beat their opponents by 14 points or more including their last three wins against San Francisco, St. Mary’s and Pacific by 20 or more.
The Zags have yet to play a road game in conference, but nonetheless this is a great start. Included in the win streak was a huge in over Gonzaga’s main rival St. Mary’s.
Gonzaga has found scoring from key role players, which has helped their spark.
Drew Barham has made 14 three pointers over the stretch averaging 12 points per game and Przemek Karnowski seems to finally be coming into his own averaging over 11 points per contest including an impressive 7 block performance against St. Mary’s.
Gerard Coleman has seen his minutes increased as he has shown that he can play under control. A big knock against Coleman has been his lack of control and turnovers. Coleman is a very athletic exciting player who is beginning to find his role in the offense. His big game came against San Francisco where he had 10 points.
Angel Nunez after having to sit out the first semester is showing why he may be an x-factor. Each game, Nunez has progressed more and more into the offense. Nunez at 6-foot-8 is a big athletic wing, who can get to the rim with ease.
He showed against St. Mary’s his ability to finish and even had an emphatic slam. Nunez finished with 13 points, 8 rebounds and looked very good. With the lack of inside depth, Nunez is another body that can fit into the rotation.
With Drew Barham shooting as well as he has over the past few games, Nunez is not getting the minutes he should be getting, but I expect that to change as the season goes on.
So the question remains, where is this season heading for the Zags.
The loss to Kansas State definitely hurt the Bulldogs non-conference schedule; as it would have been a big win against a quality Big 12 opponent. With only Memphis left on the non-conference schedule and both BYU and St. Mary’s struggling in the WCC, the Zags will need to run through the WCC.
Gonzaga cannot rely on an at-large-bid with a weak conference schedule and a weak non-conference slate.
However, things are looking up for the Zags.
It seems as if Gonzaga has been searching for lineups that can be consistent for them, and they are finally starting to find their rotations.
Sam Dower Jr. is still hurt but has played in the last few games and had 13 points against Pacific. Gary Bell Jr. is out for over a month with a broken hand, leaving the rest of the Bulldogs to pick up the slack.
Currently Gonzaga is starting Przemek Karnowski, David Stockton, Kevin Pangos, Kyle Dranginis and Drew Barham.
While this lineup has had some success, the best lineup for Gonzaga to use includes Angel Nunez.
If Gonzaga starts Sam Dower Jr, Przemek Karnowski, Kyle Dranginis, Kevin Pangos, and Angel Nunez, the Zags have a better mix of size, shooters and are more athletic.
David Stockton has played well but he is better served off the bench as a back up point guard. This will allow Stockton to come in and run the offense along with other key bench players Gerard Coleman and Drew Barham.
In my opinion this gives the Zags the best chance of winning, and when this lineup has been on the floor they have looked good.
There is still a lot of time left in the season and a long ways to go, but Gonzaga is beginning to round into form. If they can find a way to mix in Nunez to a starting lineup and get Dower Jr. and Bell Jr. healthy, this team can be dangerous.
They still need a big win over Memphis in February to increase their non-conference strength as well as win almost all of their conference games. The WCC is having a down year from the big teams and unfortunately Gonzaga does not have the luxury of losing a few WCC games.
Conference play has started well for Gonzaga, and as league play continues, look for the Zags to continue their hot streak.