NCAA Basketball Tournament - West Virginia v Gonzaga

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.

Villanova’s Jenkins to return for senior season

Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) reacts to play against North Carolina during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After briefly taking part in the NBA Draft evaluation process, Villanova forward Kris Jenkins announced Monday night that he’s decided to withdraw and return to school for his senior year. Jenkins, whose three-pointer as time expired gave the Wildcats the win over North Carolina in the national title game, announced the news via Twitter.

2015-16 was a breakout season for Jenkins, who moved into the starting lineup and averaged 13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. The 6-foot-6 forward shot 45.9 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc, and with starters Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu graduating he’ll have even more opportunities to produce next season.

Jenkins’ decision to return leaves wing Josh Hart as the lone Wildcats going through the early entry process at this time. Hart was a first team All-Big East selection as a junior, and his return would be the final piece to the puzzle for a team that many expect to be a national title contender in 2016-17.

Jenkins and Hart wouldn’t be the only returnees who had a part in the national title run, with guards Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth, wing Mikal Bridges and forward Darryl Reynolds back as well. To that group Villanova adds Fordham transfer Eric Paschall and a recruiting class anchored by Omari Spellman and Dylan Painter with Donte DiVincenzo and Tim Delaney available after being hampered by injuries last season.

Delaney missed all of last year after undergoing surgical procedures on his hips, and DiVincenzo played a total of 74 minutes over the first nine games before having to sit due to a broken foot.

Florida State guard Rathan-Mayes to return for junior season

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) drives past Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger, left, for a score in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
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With their top three scorers from last season all deciding to declare for the NBA Draft, Florida State was facing the possibility of having to rebuild their backcourt ahead of the 2016-17 season. However two of those three have decided to return to Tallahassee, with rising junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announcing on Monday that he will be back in school.

Rathan-Mayes joins rising sophomore Dwayne Bacon in returning to play another season for head coach Leonard Hamilton, with Malik Beasley hiring representation and remaining in the draft.

Rathan-Mayes had more scoring help last season and as a result was able to concentrate more on the distribution aspects of the point guard position, as he averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 assists per contest. With the return of Rathan-Mayes and Bacon, Florida State will have two of its top three scorers from last season back on campus.

The Seminoles did lose some veteran players, most notably guard Devon Bookert and center Boris Bojanovsky, but the returnees and a recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American forward Jonathan Isaac means that they won’t lack for options next season.

Auburn lands third transfer within the last week

Auburn guard T.J. Dunans (4) and coach Bruce Pearl celebrate a 75-74 win over UAB in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.  (Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP)
Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP
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After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.

Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.

Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.

SMU lands former Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt

Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt (24) leaps for a layup past Tennessee guard Shembari Phillips (25) during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Arkansas won 75-65. (Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP
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With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.

As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.

At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.

 

Boise State assistant named head coach at Northern Colorado

rp_primary_Linder_Jeff_Action_vs_Dayton_031815_2_
Courtesy UNCBears.com
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GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.

Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.

University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.

Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.

In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”

Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.