Gonzaga's Head Coach Mark Few
Let me begin by saying Mark Few and his coaching staff have done an incredible job over the past 12 years, bringing Gonzaga’s men’s basketball program to an elite level that competes against the nation’s best competition annually. With that being said, I am about to rant off my frustrations with coaching decisions and game management from Monday’s WCC Championship game.
First of all, David Stockton should not have played for 15 minutes in that game—one third of the time he was on the court. While the redshirt sophomore did have four assists, he did not score at all. In fact, for the season, he has the second worst shooting percentage of anyone on the team at 39%.
If you watch him play, the generously listed 5’11” point guard cannot keep up in fast paced games—he is always a step behind, and constantly caught in a size mismatch in the paint. He does have a great court sense, but when the game is very transition/fast-break oriented and not a slow it down, run the set offense kind of game, Stockton is not the guy to have at the point. Monday’s championship game was very fast paced and when Stocks was in at crunch time, it was flat out questionable.
On the other hand, why was Marquise Carter not in the game more, and in potentially instead of David? Carter was the WCC Tournament MVP last season, and although he didn’t have superstar year, he is so athletic, and much quicker than Stockton. Quise only saw four minutes on the court, yet in that time he went 2-2 from the free throw line and gathered a steal.
All season long, Carter managed to find his way to the line while he was in the game. While at the charity strip, he shot 70%, which is significantly better than Stockton’s 60%. David averaged over two and a half minutes more than Quise, yet Carter was at the line 30 more times than Stockton. Not only does that show Marquise was more scoring oriented, but that he made better use out his scoring attempts.
Also, Marquise is a senior with pressure game experience, he knows how to make the key plays and maintain the pace of the game. Yes, Carter is more of a shooting guard, but utilizing three guards, like Coach Few did much of the game with Pangos, Stockton, and Bell, could just has easily been done with Marquise at the two or three spot. He definitely deserved more than four minutes in the title game—poor decision to have him on the bench for 41 minutes.
Other players that should have seen more time are Sam Dower, Ryan Spangler, and Mike Hart. All three bench players were extremely effective in their sparse time on the court, yet clearly the coaching staff didn’t see fit to adjust the line-up in times of need.
Sam Dower produced 14 points in 15 minutes. He nailed two threes that sparked a ton of momentum for Gonzaga, yet he only played a third of the game. That’s right, the backup center, along with power forward Elias Harris were the only Zags to make multiple shots from behind the arc. Dower also contributed with nine points inside. He is a dual threat that should most definitely be on the court more when he is having a great game like he did Monday.
Mike Hart, the one time starter who barely saw the court once Guy Landry Edi became eligible halfway through the season is the best hustle player on the entire Gonzaga roster. While he played for eight minutes in the title game, it was predominately because Edi was in foul trouble.
However, Hart grabs boards, causes jump balls, and outside of Elias Harris nailing the last second three, is the reason for GU heading into overtime. He forced a trap in the corner with his tenacious defense, which resulted in Dellavedova turning over the ball with 10 seconds remaining. That play resulted in a GU ball that led to Harris’ trey.
While Hart and Edi play in the same position most of the time, they have two completely different styles of playing. In certain situations one athlete is better suited for time on the court, but considering in 22 minutes Guy fouled out, only grabbed one rebound, and score four points, it appears that Hart’s eight minutes may have been more valuable to the team. He racked up three boards and a steal with no fouls in his few minutes.
Finally, Ryan Spangler, the most efficient player of the game if you ask me, made use of his one minute on the court in the first half. He made a basket and added a rebound to his stat line in the 1:30 he spent on the court. Oh and that rebound was on the offensive end, something that the Zags struggle with frequently.
While Spangler is typically a late sub for Elias Harris at the four position, and surly the Bulldogs wanted Harris on the court, it still seems like Coach Few should have utilized the 6’8” freshman better. One potential use for him could have been to use Dower, Harris, Spangler, Pangos, and Bell as a rotation when Sacre needed a break.
Spangler might not be as tall as Rob or Sam, but he is a legitimate post player; who, like Mike Hart, has tenacity and works hard every second he is on the court. Considering Dower and Harris were shooting well from outside the paint Monday, it would have made since to move Harris to the wing spot, while Dower and Spangler played down low.
This line up would create pressure on SMC’s defense because there would be four outside threats to guard on the perimeter, and quite frankly Spangler’s inside presence would likely take a back seat to the defense. This would have opened up the court and allowed either Spangler to sneak some interior points, or if nothing else cause a size mismatch with three bigs on the court for Gonzaga. This should not be a rotation that is used all the time, but in a game in which needed some creative coaching, and Spangler showed production in limited time, it seems only right to figure out a way to shake things up as a coach and get the kid some more minutes.
Finally, I would like to understand where the communication breakdown is between timeouts, effective clock management, and whatever is done on the court in between. When Gonzaga lost to USF a few weeks ago by one, it was the final two minutes of the game in which GU failed to score that really hurt the Zags. Two timeouts were called, but neither proved to do anything but stop the clock. Both times the Bulldogs came out of the huddle and were unable to run an effective play or even get a high-percentage shot off before the shot-clock was about to expire. That made the difference in the game, the regular season title, and the WCC tournament seeding.
In the championship game, with 1:18 left in regulation, Few called a 30 second time out. Once the game resumed, GU allowed 28 seconds of the 29 available to tick off the shot clock before Kevin Pangos launched a missed three. Considering he had made one trey all night, it is doubtful that a last second toss up from beyond the arc by Pangos was really the game plan. If it was, Few clearly had not been watching the game I was. If it wasn’t, then why is it that Gonzaga was unable to effectively use a timeout strategy in the critical moments of a game?
There is plenty to criticize when your team loses, especially a very close and emotional game. It is always easy to judge game decisions based on the game, when one doesn’t know the ins and outs of what happens behind closed doors either. However, from merely watching the WCC Championship, I think that there were several coaching decisions that just did not make since, or were not effective. Let’s hope nearly two weeks off gives the team and coaching staff adequate time to prepare for the real championship.