1. There have been many flash-in-the-pan programs that have made a run to the Sweet 16 and quickly fell back to earth. What is Gonzaga's secret? Is it just Mark Few, or is there some other reason that the Zags have become a legitimate national power?
Wow, this is one of those questions that is probably in the eye of the beholder but Gonzaga's success has to stop and start with Mark Few. Dan Monson was the head coach when the Zags went to the Elite Eight in '99 but bolted to Minnesota the next year. Since then Few has led Gonzaga to the tournament in every year since. A big part of Mark Few's tenure at Gonzaga has been about developing talent. Guys like Ronny Turiaf, Adam Morrison, and Blake Stepp weren't huge on the recruiting scene but they blew up upon their arrival in Spokane. The staff has done a great job at recruiting this untapped talent and putting out a team that buys into the 'team' concept. The Zags have kind of left those days behind. They now recruit at a high level and it should be interesting to see how the coaching staff adapts to being a power school because the days of sneaking up on teams are long gone.
2. What should IU expect from this team? Strengths, weaknesses, concerns, etc.
We're extremely excited about this team so these answers could be a little bit swayed in the positive side...
The major strength of this team is experience and depth. People around the program know that if there is a year for the Zags to make a final four run, this is it. Jeremy Pargo, Micah Downs, and Josh Heytvelt are all seniors who have been around the program for a while. They are all playing at extremely high levels. Pargo is near the top in assists per game, and Downs and Heytvelt are leading the team in scoring. Along the same lines, Gonzaga has five players averaging double figures in points so far in Pargo, Downs, Heytvelt, Matt Bouldin, and Austin Daye. Steven Gray is averaging 9.6 points a game so I expect him to join the group soon. With that kind of experience and depth, there is no doubt that on any given night, a different player can score twenty points for Gonzaga. This is a much needed change for the program because for so long we relied on that one player to win games for us (see Adam Morrison, Ronny Turiaf, Derek Raivio etc etc..)
The thing you will notice right away is the size and length of this team. Matt Bouldin and Jeremy Pargo start at the guard spots for Gonzaga and look like they should be playing linebacker for the University of Washington. They are both around 220 pounds so they can not only play on the outside but they can also go down low and back you down. The front line for the Zags is extremely long. Micah Downs is 6'8'', and Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt are 6'11''. They are all tremendous shot blockers and, aside from the Tennessee game, have rebounded very well. Mark Few has got a couple of 7 footers on his bench as well in Rob Sacre and Will Foster. You'll probably see Sacre early and often but Foster, who is 7'5'', has only really played in garbage situations.
The glaring weaknesses for Gonzaga is their reliance on the three point shot and foul problems on the front line. As I mentioned earlier, Gonzaga has players that can shoot from all over the court and during some games, they all try to take over and shoot the long ball. The only player whose three point shot is his biggest strength is sophomore Steven Gray. He lives around the three point line and is a dagger shooter. Everyone else is a marginal three point shooter but is better at something else. This nearly killed us against in the Old Spice Classic. Another thing which has frustrated the Gonzaga faithful is sloppy fouls by our bigs. Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt have been taken out of some games early for some bad fouls and that really hurts our depth. Our front line is big but aside from Daye and Heytvelt, not very offensively gifted. Rob Sacre is coming off injury, Ira Brown is a a great role player, and Will Foster hasn't made any huge stride in his three years at Gonzaga. If they get in foul trouble early, we will be forced to play small and that is something we don't want to do.
3. Is there any discontent among Gonzaga fans? I would guess that the program's current status is beyond the wildest dreams of fans who followed Gonzaga before 1999. But is there any grumbling about not yet reaching the Final Four, for instance?
That's a great question and something I have been trying to figure out for awhile. Gonzaga has a weird fanbase because you have the older fans who have seen the crappy days when Gonzaga was terrible and you have newer generation fans like myself who have only seen Gonzaga dominate their conference and make the tournament every year. I think I would have a great answer to your question after this year because this is the make or break year for the Zags. They have no reason not to at least make the Elite Eight and if they don't, Mark Few is going to hear it from some of the fans. After this year their will be a huge transformation in the program because Pargo, Downs, and Heytvelt all graduate along with Ira Brown. Austin Daye may bolt to the draft as well.
As of right now, you can almost taste the fear floating around Spokane right now. Everyone knows this is a talented team but is worried about the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully the Old Spice Classic victory will ease some tensions but I would have to characterize the mood in Spokane as being cautious enthusiasm.
Not to mention the fact that Gonzaga has the weight of Washington sports on it's back. The football season wasn't kind to the state of Washington, I believe the Seahawks, Cougars and Huskies have 4 wins combined between the three teams. It's basically 'Zags or Bust' up here.
Thanks, guys. I would wish you luck, but luck can only work against Gonzaga in this game.