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.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?