Three Big Time Programs That Should Be Concerned Headed into 2019
by Rick Bouch Scores & Statson
If you are a fan of Gonzaga basketball, you should be worried. Your Bulldogs were once ranked No. 1 in the nation. They recorded impressive wins over Arizona and Duke. But, something is amiss with head coach Mark Few’s team and it should concern not only him but Gonzaga fans everywhere. The same goes for UCLA and Syracuse.
The Lost Mojo Few’s teams have always been known for their ability to score. In fact, the 2018-19 Bulldogs are currently fourth in the country averaging 93.3 points a game. What many may not realize is that Gonzaga’s rise from a mid-major to a perennial power was fueled by its defense. Over the past six seasons, Gonzaga has ranked in the top-30 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Remember, in those six seasons were a 2015 trip to the Elite Eight and 2017’s appearance in the national championship game.
In the seven games since beating Arizona in the Maui Invitational, Gonzaga has given up an average of 82.8 points per game. In a loss to No. 9 North Carolina, the Bulldogs allowed the Tar Heels to shoot 55 percent on shots outside the paint. That led to a season-high 103 points given up by Gonzaga. At some point, the defense has to improve. Getting an injured Killian Tillie back in the lineup should help, but if Few and company don’t fix the defense they will not be competing for a national title come March.
Losin’ Bruins UCLA is one of the country’s blueblood programs. The Bruins aren’t supposed to lose games to programs like Belmont, but last Saturday that is exactly what they did. The Bruins, who have never been all that great defensively under head coach Steve Alford, gave up a back-door layup for the game-winner against Belmont. UCLA now gives up 73 points per game. Like Gonzaga, the Bruins’ defense is going to have to change.
What should also change is the free throw shooting. UCLA is shooting just 61.1 percent from the line this season. That is 335th in the nation. It should be reasonable to expect a program like UCLA to be able to play defense and shoot free throws. Alford had a top-three recruiting class, but Tyger Campbell and Shareef O’Neal are out with injuries. Maybe their return will help.
Burnt Orange It’s typical Syracuse basketball. After 11 games, the Orange are 7-4 with a nice win over a 16th-ranked Ohio State. True to form though, Syracuse suffered a loss to Old Dominion before getting blown out by No. 14 Buffalo, the best team in the MAC. Head coach Jim Boeheim’s Orange continue to channel their inner mediocrity.
Last year, the Orange went 8-10 in the ACC and still made the NCAA tournament. Then, Boeheim and company took a trip to the Sweet Sixteen after entering the tourney as a No. 11 seed. Can they do it again? Not if they continue to shoot less than 30 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Syracuse will find out quickly if they should be concerned. They will face No. 2 Duke on Jan. 14.
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