Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South, Deep South, Mid-South, Lower Midwest, Upper Midwest, Mountains and Southwest) are located here.
It’s time for the tenth and final installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of cool, wet Pacific states known as the Northwest Region. Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season. Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation. Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man. We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off. The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?
Northwest Region (AK, WA, OR, northern CA)
- Matt Bouldin – G, Sr – Gonzaga. As anyone in Spokane or among Gonzaga’s growing national fan base can tell you, most of the talk about Gonzaga this off-season has concerned itself with what the Bulldogs have lost. Understandable, as the excellent Zag firm of Daye, Heytvelt, Pargo, and Downs are a tough bunch to replace, to say the least. Consider also that Gonzaga is bringing in something like 37 freshmen onto this year’s squad, and one can easily conclude that Mark Few finds himself with his most interesting coaching predicament yet. With such an inexperienced squad, what’s the one thing Few needs most? A savvy, intelligent senior leader. Enter Matt Bouldin, a 2010 preseason Wooden Award nominee to absolutely nobody’s surprise. Check these stats from last year: 49.1% from the field, 42.3% from three-point range…but only 13.6 PPG. Even with several other offensive options on his team, you’d expect a shooting guard with those percentages to average more than 13.6 PPG. But, this means that when Bouldin does shoot, it’s usually a good shot in terms of shot selection, something coaches will tell you is one of the real keys to winning at this level, and an incredibly difficult thing to teach. Mind you, those percentages are up from his sophomore season even though he registered more attempts as a junior. Without a doubt, Bouldin’s touches and minutes will increase this season, despite leading last year’s team with 31.7 minutes a game. He might need to get to the line a little more this year, but with his ability to take care of the ball, Coach Few should have no apprehension adding this to Bouldin’s responsibilites, if he chooses. Bouldin’s 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio was third in the conference (behind two of his teammates!) and is exceptional for a shooting guard. So go ahead, feel sorry for Gonzaga if you must. We know what they lost, and we know Portland might be a fun pick in the WCC. But with a coach like Few, a leader like Bouldin, and a non-conference pressure-cooker like the one Gonzaga has in store, if Portland so much as twitches, Gonzaga will take them down. And look at their NCAA Tournament history. Except for 2007, Gonzaga does best when they get a 10-12 seed and nobody’s looking. Mark Few is spectacular when it comes to keeping numerous talented players happy and, perhaps better than anyone in the country, instilling in all of his players an immense pride in the name on the front of the jersey as compared with the one on the back. When you watch Few’s Gonzaga teams, you can almost feel the love the players have for that uniform. Matt Bouldin possesses this pride just as much as any of his Wooden-list predecessors like Morrison or Dickau. We guarantee you — he will not go quietly.