Top 25 Countdown: No. 19 Gonzaga Bulldogs

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 26-7, 13-3 WCC (2nd); Lost in the Round of 32 to Ohio State

Head Coach: Mark Few

Key Losses: Robert Sacre, Marquise Carter

Newcomers: Przemek Karnowski

Projected Lineup:

G: Kevin Pangos, So.
G: Gary Bell, So.
F: Guy Landry Edy, Sr.
F: Elias Harris, Sr.
C: Sam Dower, Jr.
Bench: Przemek Karnowski, Fr.; David Stockton, Jr.; Mike Hart, Sr.; Kelly Olynyk, Jr.; Kyle Draginis, Fr.

Outlook: For the first time in 12 years, Gonzaga will not be entering a season as the reigning WCC champs. Not only did Gonzaga finish second behind St. Mary’s in the WCC regular season standings, the Zags lost to the Gaels in the WCC tournament title game. And while that was likely a bitter pill for the good folks of Spokane to swallow, the good news is that Mark Few brings back an intriguing roster that will be expected to bring the WCC crown back to town.

It starts in the back court for the Zags, who return one of the nation’s most promising duos. Kevin Pangos is the star, thanks in large part to the fact that he kicked off he collegiate career by putting up 33 points — including 9-13 shooting from three — against Washington State on ESPN in the opening game of their annual Kickoff Marathon. That was far from the only big game that Pangos had last season; he went for 27 in a win over St. Mary’s in February and 30 in the regular season finale against BYU.

The issue for Pangos is that he was too streaky, as freshmen that rely on their ability to shoot and score the ball are wont to do. He was 3-18 from the floor in an overtime loss to St. Mary’s in the WCC title game and 3-13 in the loss to Ohio State in the NCAA tournament. He’ll get better — both with his consistency and his decision-making — as he matures and develops, so don’t be surprised if Pangos ends up being the next in the Dan Dickau-Derek Raivio pipeline.

The good news for Zags fans is that Pangos is not the only potential star that will take residence in Few’s back court this season, as he will once again be joined in the starting lineup by fellow sophomore Gary Bell Jr. Bell finished last season as one of the nation’s most dangerous three-point shooters while showing flashes, especially late in the season, of having the potential to develop into one of the best off-guards in the country.

But where Bell’s importance to Gonzaga truly lies in his ability to defend on the perimeter, because when he’s joined by senior Guy Landry Edy on the wing, the Zags all of sudden have a pair of tough, athletic and physical defenders. That’s important because Pangos — and back up point guard David Stockton, who was used alongside Pangos often last season — are not great on-the-ball defenders.

One guy to keep an eye on is redshirt freshman guard Kyle Dranginis. A two-time Gatorade State Player of the Year in Idaho, Dranginis opted to sit out last season instead of wasting a year of eligibility trying break into the rotation, but that doesn’t mean he can’t play. At 6-foot-5, Dranginis has drawn comparisons to Matt Bouldin. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he’s an excellent passer with deep range on his jump shot.

Gonzaga will be anchored up front by Elias Harris, who it feels like will be returning for his 13th season of college basketball. Harris burst onto the national scene as a freshman, putting up impressive enough numbers that there were folks — myself included — surprised to see him back for his sophomore campaign. After battling injuries as a sophomore, Harris had a somewhat disappointing, albeit promising, junior year. Harris reaffirm his potential as a lottery pick last year, but his value as a piece to Gonzaga’s puzzle skyrocketed. By the end of the season, Harris was Few’s best rebounder and one of his best post defenders. That’s big news given the fact that Robert Sacre has graduated. Throw in the fact that Harris is now hitting over 40% from three, turning into a deadly weapon spreading the floor, and it’s quite obvious the value he has at that position.

It will be interesting to see who starts and who plays major minutes alongside Harris this season. Junior Sam Dower, who has had a promising couple of seasons, returns with his first shot at getting serious minutes. Dower is a guy that many have predicted will have a breakout season. He’s an active rebounder that can score in the post, knock down an open jumper and hit free throws. The other option is Polish import Przemek Karnowski, who has quite a bit of hype surrounding him. Standing 7-foot-1 and somewhere around 275-300 pounds, Karnowski has drawn comparisons to Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol: he’s big, he’s got a soft touch, he’s got crafty post moves and he can really pass the ball.

The problem? He’s going to be overmatched from an athleticism and conditioning standpoint, especially as a freshman. But Gonzaga beat out a number of high-profile programs for Karnowski, and his ranking as No. 32 on the Draft Express top 100 list — right in between Arizona’s three high-profile freshman big men — should tell you all you need to know about his potential.

Gonzaga also gets Kelly Olynyk back this season, a lanky and active 6-foot-11 junior that spent last year as a redshirt. That quartet of bigs will give Few the ideal combination of size, athleticism and versatility for a front court.

Predictions?: I really like the makeup of this Gonzaga team. They have a pair of talented scorers in their back court and a front court rotation that can give a multitude of different looks. They have depth, they are balanced and they are experienced; even their two sophomore stars have already started for a full season. I think Gonzaga is the favorite in the WCC heading into the season, and the expectation should be for a trip to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Arizona lands Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther

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Arizona landed a key addition for its frontcourt on Wednesday as Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther pledged to the Wildcats.

The 6-foot-9 Luther is expected to receive a hardship waiver that would give him immediate eligibility, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com, as Arizona gets some much-needed help up front.

Playing in 10 games last season before a stress reaction in his right foot ended the season, Luther averaged 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the Panthers. In his final game of the season, Luther went for 13 points and 12 rebounds in a Pitt loss to West Virginia. Luther shot 45 percent from the field and is a noted perimeter threat as he was 38 percent from behind the three-point line.

Luther hasn’t logged heavy minutes as a contributor through a full season. Mostly a role player at Pitt until last season, Luther was the team’s most productive player when he was on the floor. But that production also didn’t come during ACC play and through the course of a full season.

Thankfully at a program like Arizona, Luther should have a bit more help around him. He could be a nice addition to the Wildcats, particularly if he rebounds and spaces the floor in the frontcourt as he did at Pitt. Arizona needed someone like Luther to provide more stability after losing players like Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic.

In the last few weeks, Arizona has rebounded nicely to land three commitments for next season — including freshmen Devonaire Doutrive and Omar Thielemans. The group isn’t as heralded as some past Arizona recruiting efforts. Given where the Wildcats were in recruiting a few weeks ago, however, this isn’t a bad turnaround.

TCU extends Jamie Dixon’s contract by two more years

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TCU has given head coach Jamie Dixon a two-year contract extension through the 2023-24 season, according to a release from the school.

Dixon took the Horned Frogs to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years this season as he’s done a great job of turning around his alma mater. The release also notes that TCU had the highest average attendance in program history this season. Fans are also taking notice of a revitalized team.

With back-to-back 20-win seasons and postseason appearances, Dixon and TCU have a lot of positive momentum going on right now. The two-year extension for Dixon should help a bit in recruiting when it comes to overall stability, as well, as he’s been able to attract some quality talent so far.

Report: Kevin Ollie claims UConn violated rights with firing

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Fired former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie is claiming that the school violated his constitutional rights during his departure.

Ollie sent a letter to UConn school president Susan Herbst which was obtained by ESPN’s Myron Medcalf in a report released on Wednesday. Ollie’s lawyers are claiming the school proceeded with his firing before giving Ollie a proper chance to contest his termination — which was guaranteed in his contract and also the collective bargaining agreement with the University of Connecticut’s branch of the American Association of University Professors. Ollie was fired, with cause, in late March as the school mentioned an NCAA inquiry as the reason why. According to Medcalf’s report, the NCAA has not sent a notice of allegations to the school.

Ollie’s union membership includes thousands of faculty members around the country as the collective bargaining agreement demands a hearing process before any employee can be terminated for allegations of serious misconduct. Ollie claims he didn’t receive a letter he was supposed to get to begin the termination process.

“From our review of the facts and circumstances relating to Coach Ollie’s employment status, it is apparent that the University of Connecticut has already violated [Coach Ollie’s] rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by subverting Coach Ollie’s opportunity to respond to charges and evidence in a meaningful way in advance of the decision to terminate his employment,” said the letter dated April 3.

“The public record, action taken, and authorized communications by representatives of the University of Connecticut, demonstrate that the decision to terminate Coach Ollie has already been made and therefore the University of Connecticut has effectively negated Coach Ollie’s property right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

This letter to UConn likely begins a long legal battle to try to get an eight-figure payout back as Ollie is going to do everything he can to clear his name.

South Carolina’s Brian Bowen, still ineligible, to declare for draft

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Former Louisville forward and current South Carolina Gamecock Brian Bowen will declare for the NBA draft without signing with an agent as a safety measure in case the NCAA does not clear him to play in the 2018-19 season.

Bowen is the former top 25 prospect that was forced to leave the Louisville program after the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college hoops turned up evidence that his family had accepted the first payment of what was supposed to be a $100,000 fee to get him to be a Cardinal.

That investigation was ultimately what got Rick Pitino fired.

“I just felt that it was the right decision,” Bowen told ESPN. “My goal is still to play college basketball, but I felt as though it makes sense to cover my bases.”

Bowen is in a tough spot right now.

On the one hand, he has already missed an entire season of college basketball and there is no guarantee that he will be cleared to play next season, if at all.

On the other hand, the fact that he has not played in a year and that he has not played against any collegiate level competition is one of the reasons that NBA front offices are going to be hesitant to draft him, and that’s not a good thing for a player that was considered a second round pick before he spent a year on the sidelines.

North Carolina’s Cam Johnson undergoes hip surgery

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For the second time in the last six months, North Carolina wing Cam Johnson has undergone the knife.

On Wednesday, North Carolina announced that Johnson underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his hip on Monday, and that he is expected to make a full recovery and return to school in time for the start of the 2018-19 season.

The 6-foot-9 Johnson was UNC’s third-leading scorer a season ago, averaging 12.4 points while shooting 34.1 percent from three. He only played 26 games, however, after missing time due to a surgery to fix a torn meniscus.