Gonzaga still looks like a work in progress entering December

The Zags need to figure out their rotation and their defense

click to enlarge Gonzaga still looks like a work in progress entering December
Erick Doxey photo
Big man Efton Reid seems to have fallen out of the rotation despite GU's defensive woes.

We’re only three weeks into the college basketball season. But we’re roughly a quarter of the way through in terms of games played, which means enough on-court action has taken place to start making some judgments.

Gonzaga’s been up-and-down across its first seven games, in which the Zags have posted a 5-2 record with some big wins and some bad losses — albeit all to quality opposition. It is easy to overreact to one result here or another there. Instead, let’s look at two things that have stuck out as areas of consistent uncertainty across multiple games.

THE ROTATION


For nearly a decade now, Gonzaga has put together rosters so talented that players who would start for many other college teams found themselves glued to the bench. This year is no different.

Gonzaga seems to be rolling with an eight-man rotation once again.

Coming out of high school, 7-foot center Efton Reid was a five-star recruit according to 247 Sports, ranking as the No. 27 prospect in the country. He transferred to Gonzaga this past offseason from LSU, where he started all 34 games. At Gonzaga, he’s failed to log double-digit minutes in any of the team’s past five games. Moreover, he’s almost entirely out of the rotation. Reid played a grand total of five minutes over three games during last week's Phil Knight Legacy tournament in Portland.

Sophomore center Ben Gregg has been the recipient of Reid’s minutes, playing a career-high 13 minutes against Xavier on Sunday. The sophomore from Clackamas, Oregon has shown a tenacity and an edge to his game that has allowed him to earn a spot in the rotation. He looks to be the team’s first, and only, big man coming off the bench.


On the perimeter, sophomore guard Dominick Harris has failed to break into the rotation. After a foot injury sidelined him for all of last season, Harris was seen as a potential breakthrough player this year. That has yet to be realized, as Harris has logged a total of 13 minutes over three games played so far across Gonzaga’s seven games this season.

Head Coach Mark Few has deployed a rotation of five starters and three reserve players. Nolan Hickman, Rasir Bolton, Julian Strawther, Anton Watson and Drew Timme make up the starting five, with Malachi Smith, Hunter Sallis and Gregg coming off the bench. Few has a penchant for eight-man rotations, and so far that seems to be his preferred eight.

THE DEFENSE

The low-hanging fruit criticism of this team has been its guard play, but that’s not the main reason why they have struggled. They’ve lost two games, and looked vulnerable in a pair more, because they’re atrocious on the defensive end of the court. This might just be the worst defensive team Mark Few has had in his decades at the helm at Gonzaga.

So far this season, Gonzaga has posted a defensive efficiency rating of 104.5 — that’s the number of points they’ve given up per 100 possessions — which ranks 232nd nationally. There are 363 teams in Division I. 232 out of 363 is bad, and for a program of Gonzaga’s stature it is very bad. It’s awful, and it’s why they’ve lost two games to date.


The Zags’ defensive efficiency rating against Texas was an abysmal 126.0 and against Purdue was an equally awful 125.0. The national average this season is 101.4.

A team like Gonzaga, with Gonzaga’s aspirations, should hold teams well below 100.0 in this metric, but the Zags have given up more than 100.0 in four of seven games this season — to Texas, Portland State, Purdue and Xavier.

If you’re a team contending for a national title, you’re going to need to be well above average on the defensive end. The Zags aren’t even close to average so far.


UP NEXT

Gonzaga vs. No. 6 Baylor • Fri, Dec. 2 at 5 pm • Sanford Pentagon (Sioux Falls, S.D.) • Streaming on Peacock

Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival @ Gonzaga University Jepson Center

Through Feb. 5
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