To Contend, Part 1

Now that the 2005/06 season has ended for the Gonzaga men's basketball team, it's time to look forward to next season. We start with the backcourt.

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On the surface, it may seem as though next season will be a major rebuilding year for the Zags. Gonzaga is not only losing quite possibly their greatest low post scorer ever in J.P. Batista, but perhaps the program's greatest player ever in wing Adam Morrison. Both players combined for nearly 47 points per game, with Morrison leading the nation in scoring at 28.2 points per game. On top of this, GU loses perhaps its greatest wing defender ever in Erroll Knight – a player who epitomized what it means to be a "Zag."

The 2002/03 team had to contend with the loss of 1st Team All-American Dan Dickau, and the 2004/05 team had to deal with the loss of 5 key contributing seniors. Several pundits predicted that those teams would have down years, and yet both went on to develop into teams that were better than expected. Both teams won WCC regular season titles, and both advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, 1 and 2 points, respectively, away from going to Sweet Sixteens.

Similiarly, there are people predicting a down year for the Zags next season. What the 2006/07 Zags will do remains to be seen. What is for certain is that the off-season is here, and that means weight room work, skill development, and lots of pickup games in an effort to improve and adapt.

Next year's Zags will be led by two seniors in Derek Raivio and Sean Mallon, who have been through all the wars. After them are a series of players that made key contributions on last year's team, but who will be called upon to play way more minutes and make bigger contributions next season. However, these players are loaded with upside and potential which should come out in due time. Additionally, GU has a few newcomers next season that will have a major impact like Kansas transfer Micah Downs (who becomes eligible in mid-December), and combo guard Matt Bouldin, who is one of the most highly anticipated guards to ever enter the GU program out of high school.

Now that the off-season it upon us, takes a look at Gonzaga's returning guards, and what they need to work on in the off-season. In the coming weeks, part two of this article will be posted at this site, where we will look at the returning wings and big men.

G – Derek Raivio (2005/06 stats: 32.3 MPG, 11.0 PPG, 2.7 APG, 2.2 RPG, 39% FG, 35% 3PT, 91% FT)

2005/06 Analysis = Going into last season, a lot was expected from Raivio, who blossomed as a scoring point guard during his sophomore year. Those expectations only increased when he scored 58 points over the course of three days at the Maui Invitational where Jay Bilas and others claimed he was the best point guard in a field of UConn, Michigan State, Arizona, Kansas, Maryland and others. But in a freak play during the December 4 game at Washington, Raivio badly injured his back – an injury that forced him out of several games and threw off his deadly shooting stroke for weeks. Derek picked things up at the beginning of WCC play. He scored 24 points versus LMU on January 17, but soon after he went back into a slump and never really fully recovered. In addition to issues on the court, Raivio also experienced personal losses off the court which no doubt affected his play. Derek's statistics dropped noticeably in the areas of 3 point shooting percentage and assists per game. Although he had a lot of very good games, it was just an off year for Derek overall.

2006/07 Improvements Needed = Raivio is a scoring point guard who is an asset to his team when he is knocking shots down. He's never been a tremendous passer in the mold of Blake Stepp, and he will never be an on ball defender like Quentin Hall. But when he gets going offensively, he not only scores tons of points, but he opens up opportunities for others and keeps opponents from clogging the middle. Raivio must regain his confidence and his shooting touch from the outside in order to help his team. With Morrison's departure, he will have the ball in his hands more, and should feel freer within the offense. As is always the case with D-Rav, any muscle gained during off-season weight room work will help his game on both ends of the floor. Lastly, it is very important that Raivio continue to develop the ability to drive towards the basket and get fouled so that he can take advantage of his brilliant free throw shooting ability.

G – Pierre-Marie Altidor-Cespedes (2005/06 stats: 21.0 MPG, 4.3 PPG, 2.7 APG, 1.9 RPG, 48% FG, 38% 3PT, 73% FT)

2005/06 Analysis = Gonzaga players usually experience a large leap in their playing growth between their freshman and sophomore years, and this was certainly the case with PMAC. As with all sophomore point guards in the GU system, Pierre became more comfortable running the offense during his second year. Moreover, his offensive output steadily improved as the season moved along. He finished the season as GU's most reliable 3 point threat besides Morrison, and despite his reluctance to shoot much of the time, came through big time in late regular season games versus Pepperdine on February 21 (17 point career high) and against USF on February 28 (when he nailed a game-winning three pointer).

2006/07 Improvements Needed = Coach Mark Few likes to refer to PMAC as a "philosopher." He thinks "team first" to a fault at times. He was a skilled scorer in high school who shot around 50% as a junior from the international three point line. At the college level, those skills and his athleticism tend to shine brightly for a game or two, and then mysteriously disappear. PMAC is not likely to be a big time scorer at the college level, but he needs to develop more offensive consistency on a night to night basis. Pierre also continues to be a work in progress when it comes to mastering GU's offense and running the team. Although he did a better job last season of playing north to south, he still continues to play east and west on occasion, and not push the ball up the floor to Few's liking. Although Pierre has great passing instincts (especially on the break), he still needs to improve his interior passing to big men – too many of his passes are placed in a position where bigs can't handle them or where they aren't in a good position for scoring. And sometimes no pass is necessary. Taking it hard to the rack for a basket, foul or both can happen more often.

G – Jeremy Pargo (2005/06 stats: 16.9 MPG, 2.7 PPG, 2.0 APG, 2.1 RPG, 28% FG, 23% 3PT, 69% FT)

2005/06 Analysis = Very few freshman who have ever played for Gonzaga have experienced the level of pressure and responsibility that Pargo did during his first season in Spokane. For one thing, it took him most of the summer to become academically qualified, which prevented him from coming to Spokane in July to get used to his teammates and to work with the coaching staff on skill development. The latter was particularly important because Pargo is a point guard, and point guard in the GU system is as tough of a position to learn as any in division one basketball. Pargo was also immediately thrown into the inferno of the Maui Invitational, where he had to play against some of the best talent in the country. However, despite committing too many turnovers, he was terrific, hitting a key three pointer versus Maryland and making some passes in all three games that defied human explanation. However, Pargo's aggressive play caught up to him soon after, where he hit the proverbial freshman brick wall. An errant pass in the late stages of the Washington game cost GU dearly, and his overall tendency to turn the ball over became too much of a liability at times, resulting in more minutes for Altidor-Cespedes. However, towards the end of the season, and especially in the WCC tourney final versus LMU and in the NCAA tourney versus Indiana, the old Pargo was back.

2006/07 Improvements Needed = There is one word to describe Pargo: upside. Despite going through the usual frustrations that freshman go through at the division one level, Pargo had one of the better freshman seasons that any player has enjoyed in the program. With Morrison now gone, Pargo is one of the only players on the GU roster who is consistently aggressive and who seems to relish late game situations. In short, he has "attitude" – a sort of meanness and toughness to his game. However, Pargo really, really needs the off-season to refine his skills. The first order of business is to work with the staff to correct his perimeter jumper, which has bad form and resulted in a very low shooting percentage from the field. Another key area for improvement is his finishing ability near the bucket. Pargo, in addition to being highly athletic and tremendously strong, has one of the deadliest crossover dribbles in the country. He can basically get to the basket at will. However, whether it is out of fear of getting his shot blocked or his poor ability to finish with the left hand, he struggles to finish plays. Jeremy needs to finish those plays – not only to score points but to keep defenses honest so that he can kick out to three point shooters. He also needs to cut down on his turnovers, which very often come from making lackadaisical passes in the half court, or from forcing passes that just aren't there. Lastly, he needs to continue to develop his defensive footwork. Pargo has an incredible body for a guard his size, and his strength and athleticism could make him a lethal on ball defender at the elite level.

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