To Contend, Part 2

Now that the 2005/06 season has ended for the Gonzaga men's basketball team, it's time to look forward to next season. Back on May 16, GUnation took a look at Gonzaga's returning backcourt players. This time around, we look at the frontcourt.

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F – David Pendergraft (2005/06 stats: 17.5 MPG, 3.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 46% FG, 25% 3PT, 75% FT)

2005/06 Analysis = Nothing ever goes quite as planned in life, and the same is true in basketball. Pendo was originally planning on redshirting his freshman year until Erroll Knight's hand injury forced him into action. Last season he expected to see more time at the wing position, but was forced into playing as a backup undersized power forward throughout most of the season when Josh Heytvelt went down with a foot injury during the Maui Invitational. Being the team-first player that he is, and the most "old school" of all current Zags, Pendo responded to each situation with enthusiasm and dedication. GU fans couldn't help but smile each time they saw Pendo battling underneath for rebounds and loose balls against players who often had 5 inches on him. Pendo had 7 games last season where he racked up more than 6 boards, including 8 and 9 rebound performances versus Memphis and Eastern Washington. He averaged more boards per minute than any Zag besides J.P. Batista. His enthusiasm, hustle, toughness and overall basketball IQ helped GU immensely last season.

2006/07 Improvements Needed = One of the negative aspects of Pendo being pressed into unusual roles the last two seasons is that people have forgotten what a talented offensive player he was in high school. You do not become Mr. Basketball in the state of Washington just through hustle plays alone. This has caused a certain rustiness to creep into his offensive play, which was clearly evident whenever he tried to create offense for himself last season. Pendo must develop, refine and re-discover his offensive capabilities this offseason as they will be needed in 06/07. This is especially so early in the season when the Zags will be without a key offensive option in Micah Downs until mid-December. On the surface it would seem that Pendo also needs to work on staying out of foul trouble better, but anytime you are having to play defense against guys who are much taller and stronger than you, foul problems are inevitable. Expect improvement in this area next season. And expect Pendo to regain his mid-range and long-range game from the wing position.

F - Larry Gurganious (2005/06 stats: 7.4 MPG, 1.5 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 35% FG, 50% 3PT, 55% FT)

2005/06 Analysis = Just like with David Pendergraft, the 05/06 season ended up being very different for Gurganious than what he was expecting. LG was forced out of a redshirt season when Erroll Knight came down with knee problems during the first part of the year. On top of this, LG injured his hand during the preseason, which forced him to wear heavy tape throughout most of the year which inevitably threw off his offense. Nonetheless, despite having freshman jitters much of the time, Gurganious showed flashes of brilliance. No one will ever forget the fullcourt layup he had against Memphis where he just blew by Rodney Carney, or the many games where he was an absolute terror when GU employed their fullcourt trap. Even though his playing time really suffered as the year went along and Knight got healthy, LG continued to do what he could to help his team.

2006/07 Improvements Needed = As with any player moving through the GU system, LG is going to get more playing time next season. He will be heavily utilized during games where his athletic prowess causes problems for opponents. Moreover, with Knight now gone from the program, LG will now need to step into the role of being the team's best perimeter athlete and defensive stopper. He figures to fill this role quite nicely. Gurganious possesses a huge wingspan and fantastic defensive fundamentals (and anticipation) that could make him one of the nation's best wing defenders next season. His athleticism and wingspan will also come of use for offensive rebounding. With the heavy tape off, and LG's hand fully healed, he needs to work on his offensive game and free throw shooting. LG will need to score more next year, and many feel he could end up becoming a better offensive player than Erroll was. Larry especially needs to focus on his finishing ability near the rim as his immense athleticism allows him to rise above defenders.

F - Sean Mallon (2005/06 stats: 23.6 MPG, 7.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 51% FG, 25% 3PT, 81% FT)

2005/06 Analysis = Mallon was steady as ever last season. He was always a player that rose to the challenge whenever GU needed him to be a factor. A classic case was the Indiana game during the NCAA tourney when Sean collected 15 points and 10 boards while destroying the Hoosiers' undersized forwards. Mallon had double-double games versus Portland State and Washington State, and the Zags needed every one of his points in close calls against St. Louis and St. Mary's (2/7). Sean is a guy who just understands the game and how to play it, and he figures to be a vital leader on next season's Zag team as he is one of only 2 seniors on the squad.

2006/07 Improvements Needed = For some reason, Mallon's offensive consistency nosedived when J.P. Batista supplanted him in the starting lineup during the 05/06 season, and it hasn't returned since. Mallon was a big time scorer in high school, and he still possesses a lot of offensive skills in the low post and solid footwork. With no proven big man scorer returning next season, Sean really needs to develop into a consistent double digit scorer. He doesn't need to score as much as Batista did, but he needs to make up for some of the slack and be consistent about it. Another area where Sean needs work is with his turnovers. He committed 3 or more turnovers in 6 games last season, including 4 costly ones in GU's loss to UCLA in the NCAA tourney. Many of the turnovers come from Sean not securing the ball tightly and from lazy outlet passes. Polishing his mid-range jumper and getting back to those nifty post moves he displayed as a freshman would help immensely.

F - Josh Heytvelt (2005/06 stats: 10.1 MPG, 3.9 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 44 FG%, 23% 3PT, 55% FT)

2005/06 Analysis = After a solid redshirt season which allowed Josh to gain weight and toughen up, so much was expected from him last season. Unfortunately, a foot ailment kept him out of preseason practice for the most part. Worse yet, he busted his foot during the UConn game, which kept him out of the lineup most of the regular season and made him too rusty to be a major contributor during March. Had Josh enjoyed a healthy season, there is a very good chance GU could've advanced further in the NCAA tourney than it did. However, as with all players with big time upside, Josh showed flashes of his potential, such as his 9 point/4 rebound game versus Michigan State (in just 19 minutes), and the two breathtaking fast break shots he made during the 2/18 game at LMU.

2006/07 Improvements Needed = Heytvelt has basically been out of organized basketball for the better part of 2 years. He desperately needs game and practice experience, which will only come if he is fully healthy. Heytvelt needs to continue to get stronger in the weight room, and to just get tougher in general. Even though he has incredible perimeter skills for a 6-11 player, JH is so athletic and has such a huge wingspan that he can be a major impact player underneath the basket. With no true blue low post banger returning next season, Josh is going to need to be in the low blocks on both ends quite a lot. He can still take guys out on the perimeter, but he cannot just hang out at the 3 point line. He needs to work on his low post scoring skills, and also his defensive footwork. Josh has the potential to be an absolute lethal shot blocker, but the way he currently positions himself behind offensive players doesn't allow him to take advantage of this ability. The mental aspect of the game, combined with an elevated ferocity, will be key to his sophomore season as well.

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