2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 15 Gonzaga Bulldogs

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 32-3, 16-0 WCC (1st); Lost in the Round of 32 to Wichita State

Head Coach: Mark Few (15th season at Gonzaga: 374-93 overall, 178-22 WCC)

Key Losses: Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris, Mike Hart, Guy Landry Edi

Newcomers: Gerald Coleman, Angel Nunez, Ryan Edwards, Lucas Meikle

Projected Lineup

G: Kevin Pangos, Jr.
G: Gary Bell, Jr.
F: Gerald Coleman, Jr.
F: Sam Dower, Sr.
C: Przemek Karnowski, So.
Bench: Angel Nunez, So.; Kyle Draginis, So.; David Stockton, Sr.; Drew Barham, Sr.

They’ll be good because …: Gonzaga returns one of the most underrated back courts in the country. Kevin Pangos looked like he was on the verge of becoming an All-American caliber player after a big freshman season, and Gary Bell was the perfect back court compliment. But with Kelly Olynyk turning into a lottery pick and playing alongside Elias Harris last season, the focus of that Gonzaga team went from their perimeter attack to their massive front line.

Olynyk and Harris are gone, however, and while Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower are quality post players, the focal point of this team is going to be the back court. Pangos and Bell are the names you’ll recognize, along with David Stockton. But Few has some depth to work him this year as well. Gerald Coleman averaged 13.2 points as a sophomore at Providence. Angel Nunez, who will be eligible after the first semester, was a high-profile recruit at Louisville before leaving. Even Drew Barham and Kyle Draginis should be able to provide some minutes.

source: AP
AP photo

But they might disappoint because …: Don’t get me wrong, the 1-2 punch of Karnowski and Dower up front is nice. Karnowski earned the nickname Mt. Poland because, well, he’s massive: 7-foot-1, 305 pounds, which is probably a generous number. He knows how to get position and hold position, and he has soft hands and a nice touch around the rim. Dower? He’s been ultra-productive in limited minutes for three years, doing many of the same things that Elias Harris did.

But here’s the problem: after those two, Gonzaga doesn’t really have anyone on their front line. They bring in a pair of freshmen, and Kyle Wiltjer is redshirting, but that’s it. All the more concerning is the fact that Karnowski has conditioning issues. The downside to being his side is that it takes a lot of energy to do anything, and he issn’t exactly a modicum of fitness in the first place. Can he play 32 minutes a night? Can he stay out of foul trouble? If not, Few is going to have to get creative with some of the lineups that he uses.

Outlook: Gonzaga’s reputation took a massive blow last season. After posting a 32-2 regular season record and earning themselves a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Zags went down in the Round of 32 to Final Four darling Wichita State. Given the amount of hype that various pundits had heaped upon the Zags entering the tournament, no one is going to trust Gonzaga again. It’s not going to help matters that the Zags will likely be playing a weak — by their standards — non-conference schedule this season. West Virginia, Kansas State and Washington State are all down this year. If Gonzaga loses to Dayton in the Maui Invitational’s first round, then Memphis in February could end up being the only ranked team they play all season long. Put it all together, and don’t be surprised to see Gonzaga with yet another impressive record come March.

Having said all that, I still believe that the Zags are not only a tournament team, but one capable of making it to the second weekend. There are some very obvious question marks — I haven’t even mentioned the potential issues on the defensive with their small back court and slow front court — but this is a team that is going to be able to spread the floor, will hit a lot of threes and should score plenty of points. On the nights their shots are dropping, they will be a tough out.

Diallo withdrawing from draft, returning to Kentucky

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It took plenty of time for the news to make its way public, but it was a wait that proved welcome for Kentucky fans.

Wildcat freshman Hamidou Diallo will withdraw his name from the NBA Draft and return to Kentucky, the school announced

Diallo’s situation was one of the more interesting in college basketball as he became an incredibly intriguing pro prospect despite being on a college roster and never playing a minute.

The five-star recruit enrolled at Kentucky in January after attending a semester of prep school with the plan to redshirt the season and then play for the Wildcats in 2017-18. There were rumblings and rumors about Diallo potentially playing for John Calipari’s group last year, but ultimately they stuck to the plan to keep him on the bench and preserve his eligibility. Throughout it all, there was always the specter that Diallo could just decide to go the professional route anyway.

That possibility moved fully into the forefront earlier this month when Diallo showed off a 44.5-inch vertical leap at the NBA Draft combine in Chicago. The 6-foot-5 guard also recorded a wingspan that nearly measured 7-feet. With those types of physical traits, he makes for an awfully interesting professional prospect, regardless of refinement or experience.

Given Diallo’s lack of high-level experience, though, there was no guarantee he’d be a first-round selection as teams would be wary of drafting solely on potential, rather than the mostly they typically do.

“I hope to play in the NBA one day — just not this season,” Diallo said in a statement. “Based on the information I received by testing the waters, I believe it’s in my best interests to return to school. Although I was a part of the team last season and trained with my teammates, I never fulfilled another one of my dreams, which was to play for a major college program and win a national title.

“I am excited about returning to Kentucky for the 2017-18 season. I can’t wait to play in a Kentucky jersey for the first time.”

Going back to Lexington to play college basketball gives Diallo a chance to showcase his skills against competition the NBA will be able to evaluate him against. It also makes Kentucky – surprise, surprise – extremely formidable this season as they, once again, restock the roster with potential lottery- and first-round picks. With Diallo officially in the fold, Kentucky is a no-doubt top-five team that will be among the favorites to cut down the nets in April 2018.

“I’m really proud of Hami,” Calipari said in a statement. “He took in all the information, asked a lot of questions, including questions to the NBA teams. I love the fact that he wants to put himself in a better position and help lead this new team to a championship.
“I can’t wait to get him on the court and have all of you fans see what I know.  He’s a special player and a special person.”

LaVar Ball selling “Stay In Yo Lane” shirts

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Create controversy. Profit from controversy.

It’s not an especially new or original strategy, but it’s one that LaVar Ball continues to try to exploit.

The infamous basketball dad is at it again, looking to capitalize on the uproar/kerfuffle/news cycle/debate/ickiness he created when he belittled FS1’s Kristine Leahy, telling her to “stay in your lane” on multiple occasions when claiming the Big Baller Brand didn’t need to market to women.

Well, they are now, with a nod to Ball’s proclamation, selling “STAY IN YO LANE” tees, for both men and women.

Marketing misogyny. Isn’t that nice.

It’s clear that LaVar Ball isn’t going to shy away from the public spotlight anytime soon, especially with eldest son Lonzo looking destined for the Lakers and middle son LiAngelo set to join UCLA, and he’s going to do his best to use that light to push the BBB franchise that scared away the world’s biggest apparel companies.

This plan has no mystery, subtlety or taste. Which might as well be the Big Baller Brand slogan.

Mykhailiuk returning to Kansas for senior season

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Kansas’ attempt for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title, and run for Bill Self’s second national title, got a shot in the arm Wednesday.

Svi Mykhailiuk announced that he will return to Lawrence for his final season of eligibility. “Senior year going to be fun,” he wrote on his Instagram page.

Senior year gonna be fun😈👌🏼🤘🏼 #KUCMB

A post shared by Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (@sviat_10) on

The Jayhawks were already going to be loaded this season with Devonte Graham, a potential All-American, returning for his senior season and Udoka Azubuike healthy after missing last year due to injury along with Malik Newman becoming eligible after a transfer from Mississippi State and recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett bolstering the ranks. The return of Mykhailiuk, though, only solidifies Kansas’ place not only atop the Big 12, but in the country.

Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 forward, had something of a breakthrough season as a junior, posting career highs nearly across the board, including shooting 39.8 percent on nearly five 3-point shot attempts per game. With his size and shooting ability, Mykhailiuk was sure to garner professional interest, even though it would have been more likely than not he would been drafted in the second round of next month’s draft.

Mykhailiuk’s situation is certainly a unique one for college basketball as the Ukraine native enrolled at Kansas in 2014 just after his 17th birthday. He won’t turn 20 until next month, making him the same age as many sophomores and more likely to be viewed by NBA teams in the future as having upside, rather than a typical 22- or 23-year-old senior who scouts look at as having come close to reaching their ceiling.

Mykhailiuk wasn’t going to be the linchpin of Kansas’ success next season, but his decision to return shouldn’t be underestimated. His size, experience, skill and versatility provide the Jayhawks with a real weapon that will help alleviate pressure and expectations from other players up and down the roster. He’s very much a difference-maker for a team that will be contending for a spot in the Final Four.

Caleb Swanigan to stay in NBA draft

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Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.