Gonzaga's 4-5 start raising questions
Gonzaga is 4-5, the worst record in coach Mark Few's dozen years at the helm and the team's worst opening since the 1989-90 squad posted the same mark.
Four of Gonzaga's losses are to teams ranked in the Top 25. With games coming up against No. 9 Baylor, Xavier, Oklahoma State, Wake Forest and No. 18 Memphis, even Few is beginning to wonder whether the tough non-conference scheduling has gone too far.
''The schedule is just beating us up and really taking its toll, but we have to respond,'' Few said.
Because they play in the lightly regarded West Coast Conference, the Zags have retained their status as a national power for the past decade by playing a murderer's row of top opponents during the nonconference season. The most ranked opponents Gonzaga has played in a year was seven during the 2006-07 season.
The losing has taken a toll. Gonzaga was ranked as high as No. 11 early in the season but is no longer receiving Top 25 votes.
The Zags' five losses have been to No. 6 Kansas State, No. 11 San Diego State, No. 12 Illinois, No. 24 Notre Dame and unranked Washington State (7-1), which has the best record in the Pac-10. They have lost three games in a row.
''We've got to keep our heads up,'' center Robert Sacre said. ''It's a long season.''
Players come to Gonzaga for the chance to play this type of schedule, Sacre said.
''The coach trusts us,'' Sacre said. ''The schedule is for what he thinks this team could be.''
Conventional wisdom is that the Zags will still win the WCC - they are 64-6 the past five seasons and have won 10 straight regular-season titles - and reach a 13th consecutive NCAA tournament.
But their run of 13 straight 20-win seasons is in jeopardy.
In addition to the tough schedule, the Zags have been dogged by lousy defense, uneven guard play and a lingering Achilles' injury to forward Elias Harris that has limited the NBA prospect to 10 points and four rebounds per game. As a freshman last year, he averaged 15 points and seven rebounds.
Three-pointers are also hurting the Zags, who are giving up nine per game.
They are averaging 16 turnovers per game, three more than last year. They had 25 turnovers in the loss to Washington State.
Most of the losses have been close, with short slumps putting Gonzaga in a hole.
''We have three- or four-minute lapses with total defensive breakdowns that lead to easy baskets, and that affects our offense a little bit,'' Few said. ''Before you know it, against these good teams, you are down 10 or 12 points.''
Kelly Olynyk, a 7-foot forward, is struggling, averaging only seven points per game. Starting point guard Demitri Goodson is averaging only three assists and five points per game.
Steven Gray, the only senior, has played well as their top offensive weapon, averaging 18 points per game. Sacre is averaging nearly 12 points and 7 1/2 rebounds.
The Zags have shown some fire. At Notre Dame on Saturday, they were down by 14 in the second half before rallying to trail by only two in the final 13 seconds. But the Irish made free throws and time ran out.
Harris had one of his best games of the season, scoring 19 points. He doesn't think it is time to panic.
''We've played one of the hardest schedules in the nation this year,'' Harris said. ''I'm pretty sure if other teams played the same schedule, they'd be in the same situation probably right now.''