Top 25 Countdown: No. 9 Gonzaga Bulldogs

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 9 Gonzaga.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

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Mark Few (AP Photo)

Head Coach: Mark Few

Last Season: 29-7, 15-3 WCC (1st)

Key Losses: David Stockton, Sam Dower, Gerard Coleman

Newcomers: Domantas Sabonis, Kyle Wiltjer, Byron Wesley, Josh Perkins, Silas Melson

Projected Lineup

G: Kevin Pangos, Sr.
G: Gary Bell Jr., Sr.
G: Byron Wesley, Sr.
F: Kyle Wiltjer, Jr.
C: Przemek Karnowski, Jr.
Bench: Domantas Sabonis, Fr.; Josh Perkins, Fr.; Kyle Draginis, Jr.; Silas Melson, Fr.; Angel Nunez, Jr.

They’ll be good because … : This group is going to be a nightmare to try and stop this season. Let’s start with Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga’s star point guard that has seemingly been on campus since Adam Morrison was still playing. As a junior, Pangos averaged 14.5 points and 3.6 assists while shooting 41.2% from three despite the fact that he was, quite frankly, not healthy all year long. He battled turf toe and ankle issues. Now that he’s healthy, expect the borderline All-American to show back up this season, which is terrific news for Zags fans given the amount of talent that surrounds him.

Let’s start with the front court. Kyle Wiltjer, the former McDonalds All-American that spent two seasons at Kentucky, is eligible this season. He spent the last year developing his body — strength, athleticism, mobility, fluidity, everything — and can still shoot the lights out, meaning that he should be a perfect front court compliment to Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis. Karnowski is a massive, 7-foot-1 low post scorer while Sabonis, the son of the legendary Arvydas Sabonis, is a talented freshman that comes from Lithuania via the Spanish pro league.

Gary Bell Jr. and USC transfer Byron Wesley will provide scoring pop on the wings as well, giving Few one of the most balanced and dangerous lineups in the country. Gonzaga will be a lot of fun to watch this season.

source: Getty Images
Kevin Pangos (Getty Images)

But they might disappoint because … : As many answers as there are for Gonzaga on the offensive end of the floor, there are that many questions for them defensively. Pangos has never been known as a great on-ball defender. Wiltjer should be stronger and quicker this season, but that doesn’t mean that he is going to be able to hold his on in the paint against, say, Montrezl Harrell or be able to hedge hard on ball-screens. Karnowski is big and takes up space in the lane, but he’s not ever going to move quickly in any direction.

Against good teams, and against teams that prioritize ball-screens, the Zags are going to struggle to get stops if they play predominantly man-to-man. Will they play zone or use matchup zones heavily? Gonzaga improved quite a bit on the defensive end of the floor as last season wore on, so it will be interesting to see what Few cooks up in Spokane this season.

Outlook: This might be the most talented Gonzaga team that Mark Few has ever had. I know, I know, we say that seemingly every season and Gonzaga has yet to return to the Elite 8 after their run under Dan Monson in 1999. This season is different, however. The Zags are healthy, they are loaded with talented veterans, they have a front line that can match up, size-wise, with anyone in the country, and their perimeter is one of the best in the country.

Can the Zags make a Final Four this season? Absolutely, but, like anyone else, it is going to depend on a couple of key factors: Their defense, Kyle Wiltjer’s offseason development and the health of Kevin Pangos. If all three of those things go according to plan, don’t be surprised to see Gonzaga roll through the WCC and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.