Sizing Up The Bulldogs

Our Blue Devils take to New York City again this weekend, this time to face another tough opponent in the Gonzaga Bulldogs. This week, we got a chance to speak with Zach and Max of “The Slipper Still Fits,” a terrific Gonzaga Hoops blog, to get a feel of what to expect as the Devils face another difficult challenge. We also answered a few of their questions – you can check them out on their site here.

How will Gonzaga stop Scheyer and Co.? Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com

Crazie Talk: The last Bulldogs loss came at the hands of a familiar Duke foe in Wake Forest. How did the Deacs play their way into ending one of the longest home win streaks in college basketball?

The Slipper Still Fits: The first thing that obviously impacted the flow of the game was our starting power forward, Elias Harris, getting ejected for an elbow to Chas McFarland’s throat.  When he was tossed, Gonzaga was up nine with two minutes and change to go and had really been dominating the game.  To make matters worse, at the same time Elias delivered the forearm shiver, Matt Bouldin had fouled CJ Harris’ three-point attempt so Wake got five free throws when the dust settled.  CJ made four of five, Wake got the ball, Ari Stewart hit a three, and just like that our lead was down to a bucket.  That sequence was a big reason but I think our play directly after that was just horrendous and killed any chance we had.  In the first half, Wake Forest shot sub-35% from the floor and in the second half they really started the knock down big shots and they just pounded Gonzaga on the offensive boards.  I think they took about ten or so more shots than us which is such a rarity when we are at home.  As you can tell, it is still hard for me to pinpoint the loss on any one factor but rebounding and leadership after that ejection were huge factors against us and, to be quite honest, Wake just made big plays at the end of the game and Dino Gaudio orchestrated it brilliantly.

CT: Gonzaga boasts a bevy of talent on both ends of the ball. Who needs to have a big game for the Zags to pull off the upset?

TSSF: This is one of those questions that could go to almost anyone in our starting five.  If I had to narrow it down to one person I would have to say Steven Gray.  I’ve been following this program for a long time and our site is closing in on two years of operation and I’ve never felt more frustration with a single player.  He’s got all the talent in the world but I’m not sure if he has the personality to bring it together into consistent efforts.  For the first six games, Gray was playing well and if he wasn’t hitting shots, he was doing other little things.  Against Washington State he played great defense but didn’t hit shots and then against Wake Forest he just didn’t do anything.  His importance against Duke is huge because: a) He has to hit some shots and get to the hoop and b) He’ll probably spend some time guarding Kyle Singler.  Gray will give up three inches to Kyle but he’s our best defender with size in our starting lineup.  With that being said, I can pretty much guarantee right now that if Steven has a stat line similar to the one against WSU or Wake, Duke won’t have much of a problem shoving off the Zags.

CT: What do you see as Gonzaga’s most glaring weakness thus far in the season?

TSSF: The thing that has really been driving us up the walls lately is free-throw shooting.  Gonzaga is historically a very sound free-throw shooting team but this year has just been abysmal.  We’re currently sitting at about 68% from the line and a couple of our worst performances have been turned in at home.  The reason why this is such an enormously glaring weakness is because Gonzaga gets to the line almost more than any other team in the nation.  I think the national perception of Gonzaga is like other mid-majors and that is they kill you from the outside but this team is completely inside-out.  They have, for my money, the best post-up guard in the country in Matt Bouldin and then both Steven Gray and Demetri Goodson are excellent at getting to the rack.  Elias Harris and Robert Sacre also draw a ton of fouls but if they continue to shoot at this percentage, teams are really going to start hacking away.  It will be very interesting to see how Gonzaga responds to Madison Square Garden.  With all this youth, I can’t expect the free-throw shooting to get much better but it really could be a key factor if the Zags want to pull the upset.

CT: Ten seconds left, and the Zags are down by one. When the game is on the line, who has the ball in his hands?

TSSF: I’d like to be clever and draw up some elaborate play for Elias Harris or Robert Sacre but that isn’t Mark Few’s style.  The ball will be in Matt Bouldin’s hands unless something crazy happens.  For two years, Mark Few’s play call for late game situations was to just give Jeremy Pargo the ball and clear out but with Matt and Steven, he usually gives the ball to Matt on the outside and lets Gray run around a few screens just in case Matt doesn’t get his own shot.  Depending on who is guarding him, Coach will also sometimes send Matt into the low post and hope for a mismatch because there really are only a handful of guards that can deal with his physicality.  He might not take the last shot, but he’ll decide who does.

CT: Duke has seen a lot of success in Madison Square Garden in recent years, especially in big games. What do you think of Gonzaga’s chances on the big stage? What worries you most about this Duke team?

TSSF: I think most Gonzaga fans had this game penciled in as a loss before the season started.  This isn’t to say that we didn’t believe we had an excellent team but when you consider that we lost four starters from last year and are playing now with seven newcomers, the idea of Duke @ MSG seemed extraordinarily daunting.  However, the more I think about this game, I don’t think the stage will really be an issue at all.  Our second game was in East Lansing against Michigan State where we nearly pulled the upset and this team has constantly came back from deficits against good teams.  Colorado, Cincinnati, Washington State, and Wake Forest all had nice leads on the Zags late in games and this team somehow clawed back in every game and, with the exception of Wake, found a way to win.  For this reason, I’m not worried about the stage affecting this team and that gives us a great shot to pull off an upset.

What worries me the most is three-point shooting from Duke.  Our opponents have been able to get off so many good looks from beyond the arc against us and if we allow Jon Scheyer or Andre Dawkins to get hot from deep, it’s going to be a long night in the Big Apple.  I’m fully expecting Kyle Singler to get his 25 points but if Gonzaga can improve defending the three and not allow a second Duke player to have a big offensive night, it will be a very, very tight contest.

Prediction: I think the Zags take care of business in New York and finally prove they are a legit contender this year in a 79-72 victory over Duke.

We’d like to thank the guys at The Slipper Still Fits for letting us get a feel for Gonzaga! Go Duke!

Video Preview from CBS below: