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.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.

Adam Silver on lowering NBA Draft age minimum: ‘It’s on the table’

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver joined Dan Patrick this morning and was again questioned about the potential of the NBA changing the age limit to declare for the draft.

“If you’d asked me that a year ago, I would have said ‘if I didn’t have to negotiate this with the union, I would have raised the age minimum to 20 from 19,'” Silver told Patrick. When pressed on it, Silver said, “It’s a possible option. It’s on the table,” adding that it will be discussed by the union and in an owner’s meeting, and that he still doesn’t know what he thinks the best answer is.

But the big news is that he’s actively considering a change.

I wrote a long piece about the one-and-done rule and why the topic of what’s best for the kids is incredibly complicated. Owners don’t want to pay teenagers millions of dollars to develop; they’d rather let them develop in college and have an extra season or two on the back-end, when the player is in his prime. The players don’t want to spend a year in college, but the marketing and branding opportunities for them — not to mention to booster money that is floating around on a college campus — makes going to college a better option that going to the G-League, and that’s to say nothing of the fancy dorms, private flights and perks of being a celebrity on a college campus.

The truth is probably this: The NBA is trying to take control of basketball’s feeder systems. And I’m not just talking about making the G-League a better option than the collegiate ranks.

“It’s no longer an issue of 19 to 18 or 19 to 20,” Silver said. “I think it means that we as the NBA need to do something that we’ve avoided, which is getting more involved in youth basketball. If you sit with the folks from Nike or Under Armour or Adidas, they can tell you who the top 100 14 year olds are in the world, and there’s a fairly close correlation between the top 100 at 14 and the top 100 at 18.”

“Then I look at some of the players coming in internationally who are becoming full time professional basketball players, as we see in soccer, at 16 years old,” he added. “And they’re on a better development program and a more holistic one, in terms of injury prevention and monitoring in terms of control over them.”

This is a really nuanced decision, and again, if it interests you, I would encourage you to read what I wrote last week before listening to the hot take mafia work this story line over.

Because the fact of the matter is that there is a lot more to consider here than simply whether or not high school seniors should be allowed to go directly to the NBA.