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.
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
– 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.
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.