The first big game of the Mountain West basketball season is tomorrow night as San Diego State Aztecs travel to the kennel to take on the Gonzaga Bulldogs. So, I did a Q&A with SB Nation's Gonzaga site The Slipper Still Fits about Tuesday's game. Also, check their site where I did the same for them.
Q: It looks like Elias Harris will matchup with Kawhi Leonard and it should be a good battle between the two. So, what are Harris' strength to his game and how good is he since your site mentions he should be a first round pick in the upcoming NBA draft and possibly first team All-American.
A: As you mentioned, the matchup between Elias and Kawhi should be a huge test for both guys. The first thing that jumps out when you are watching Elias is the rare combination of pure strength and athleticism. He has the strength to bully and push around any SF that is forced to guard him, and has the athleticism/quickness to routinely blow by most PF's that are forced to guard him. This makes him a very difficult guy to guard for any team, because you really need to have an elite caliber athlete on the floor to have any chance to slow him down.
The other aspect of his game that really makes him special is that he is an underrated shooter. He obviously has the dunks and finishes at the rim that routinely put him on ESPN, but he also is a very good shooter all the way out to the three-point line. In the loss to Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament last year, he really put his full game on display. While he finished at the rim when he founds gaps behind the zone, Elias hit numerous jumpers when he found the open spots in the zone defense.
Q: Is the point guard position finally settled and are you confident in will be running the Gonzaga offense?
A: While the point guard discussion has been a bit topic for seemingly every Gonzaga fan, our site has never really been as uneasy about it. I think the main issue most people have had with Meech Goodson is that he doesn't fit the mold of previous GU point guards. With guys like Dickau, Stepp, and Raivio, fans became accustomed to point guards that looked to score first and could light it up from the perimeter. Meech is not that type of player, but that doesn't mean he isn't a good fit. He is a pass first guy that is at his best on the fastbreak.
The backup pg appears to be some sort of combo of JC transfer Marquise Carter, Steven Gray and redshirt freshman david stockton (and yes, he is the son of John Stockton). As Carter gets more comfortable with the system, I expect him to be the primary ballhandler off the bench, although he started as the SG against IUPUI. So, at this point, I think the point guard rotation is still being ironed out, but there isn't as big of an issue as many people have thought.
Q: Was being ranked 12th in the preseason something expected for this Gonzaga team?
A: No.12 was right about where Gonzaga fans were thinking. The loss of Matt Bouldin is the reason this wasn't a top 5 team entering the preseason, but I don't expect his departure to have a huge impact on this team. With so much talent departing for the NBA last season, combined with some preseason eligibility and injury issues with other teams, I think at our site we probably think this team should be ranked right around 7 or 8. However, No. 12 isn't a ridiculous spot to be at considering this team needs to prove itself without Matt.
A: Steven Gray is a guy that fans of basketball should be watching this year. He spent his first three years flashing glimpses of his unlimited potential, but has come out this year playing at an All-American level. He has every tool to be an NBA player. He is a legit 6'5 and is strong. He possesses elite athleticism and has the type of jumper that coaches try to teach. This season he has been active on the boards and played the role of playmaker. He has come close to triple-doubles in each of the first two games, and I would be stunned if he doesn't get a couple this season.
The other guy to watch would be Sam Dower. Dower is a guy that Gonzaga fans have been waiting to see since he committed in '09. After redshirting last year, Dower has shown the ability to be around the rim and score at a high rate. If you are familiar with some of the Gonzaga teams of the past, he is somewhat of a combo of Ronny Turiaf and JP Batista. He finished at the rim with a soft touch, but has enough range to extend out to the free throw line. He is still learning to be comfortable within the offense, but he has unlimited potential and is a guy that will go a long way to determining the success of the team.
Q: The WCC has been improving in basketball as a whole, but is there going to be any team that can really challenge Gonzaga for the league title?
A: Every year there is a team that typically emerges from the rest of the pack to challenge Gonzaga, and yet no team has been able to knock the Zags off the perch. I would think the top two contenders would be St. Mary's, which is coming off a Sweet 16 season and returns some solid talent, and LMU. LMU was one of the toughest teams in the WCC at the end of last season and returns nearly its entire rotation this season. Obviously, the addition of BYU next season will make the league even more competitive.
Q: What are the expectations for this team?
A: This is one of the toughest questions when it comes to the team. Having seen these guys play so much, we have a belief that this team has Final 4 potential with the depth and talent at its disposal. The likely departure of Elias Harris to the NBA gives this season an added dimension of importance, because he is not the type of guy you just replace without skipping a beat. However, as any fan knows, the NCAA Tournament is such a crapshoot, and a lot of the success depends on the draw you get. With that said, the hope is that this team can gel in March, because if it does, it has the potential to be elite.