Gonzaga’s 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski will miss the rest of the season as he is set to undergo season-ending back surgery on Thursday, a source told NBCSports.com’s Raphielle Johnson.
Karnowski has not played since Nov. 27th, when Gonzaga beat UConn in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The injury was initially said to be back spasms, but there have been reports that he is dealing with a bulging disc.
Karnowski is only averaging 8.8 points and 5.4 boards this season, but his value to this Gonzaga team goes beyond his numbers. He’s by far the best defensive presence they have, a massive human being that knows how to go vertical around the rim. He’s not much of an athlete, but is size and length makes him a rim protector, and as talented as Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer are on Mark Few’s front line, they are no where near the defenders.
This season has already been a bit disappointing for Gonzaga, as they have felt the loss of their senior guards more than some initially expected. Without Karnowski in the mix now, this does not have the feel of a Gonzaga team that can make a run to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Karnowski has only played in five games this season, meaning that the senior will be eligible for a medical redshirt.
Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford combined for 33 points and six assists, committing just a pair of turnovers on the night, as UCLA landed their second big win of the season, going into Spokane and knocking off No. 20 Gonzaga at The Kennel, 71-66.
And while it was the back court that made the big plays for Steve Alford’s team, the star of the second half was Tony Parker. The 6-foot-9 senior center was dominant during a stretch where the Bruins extended their lead to as much as eight points. He finished with 16 points and made his first eight shots from the field, overpowering a Gonzaga front line that is beat up.
Prezemek Karnowski did not play again. The 7-foot-1 center — by far Gonzaga’s best low post defensive presence — has been dealing with back spasms for the last week. He didn’t play in the loss to Arizona and he missed the near-loss to Montana. Domantas Sabonis played well — 18 points and eight boards — but he’s just not the same presence as Karnowski is.
Kyle Wiltjer began the game on fire, hitting threes on three straight possessions, before Steve Alford made a switch. Initially, Parker was guarding Wiltjer, but Alford put Jonah Bolden in the game. Bolden is 6-foot-10 and long but he’s far more athletic and mobile than Parker is. That switch made a difference; Wiltjer finished with 20 points, but shot just 4-for-12 from the floor the rest of the way. Bolden finished with 10 points and 11 boards in 30 minutes, by far his best game in a Bruin uniform.
So what do we make of UCLA?
I’m seriously asking you.
Because I don’t really know.
They beat Kentucky … when Kentucky was missing their best big man and their starting point guard was banged up. They won at Gonzaga — who isn’t really the typical Gonzaga this season — while they were missing their best big man. They’ve lost to Monmouth at home, lost to Wake Forest in Maui and got worked over by Kansas.
There is a ton of talent on that roster in a year where the Pac-12 is wide open, but I can’t convince myself to fully trust this team just yet.
Where it was tough to whittle down the back courts to just 15 teams, for the front lines, it was tougher to find 15 units that we truly thought were potentially dominant. Whether it was a result of a lack of depth or a lack of star power, the back end of this list didn’t feel all that overpowering.
The Zags ended up winning out on this list for the simple fact that there isn’t another program in the country with three big men that are as good as this trio. Wiltjer is a prototype stretch four with shooting splits that are reminiscent of Doug McDermott. Karnowski is the rim protector, a 7-foot-1 behemoth that has developed a solid offensive repertoire that includes baby hooks and the ability to dive to the rim in ball-screens actions. And Sabonis may actually be the best of the three, a throwback power forward that plays physical, sets hard screens and is always looking to hit the glass.
As a whole, however, I’m personally not sold, although my colleagues don’t necessarily agree with me. I think Wiltjer is a defensive liability and I worry about lineup flexibility; can you get all three on the floor at the same time? Can Sabonis and Karnowski both be on the court without the shooting of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. to spread the floor? If the answer to those questions is yes, than Gonzaga should be a top 15 team. If not, it’s a much different story.
2. North Carolina (Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks, Joel James, Luke Maye)
When the casual ACC hoops fan thinks of North Carolina basketball, they probably think of an uptempo, run-and-gun team built around Roy Williams’ patented secondary break offense. And while that’s true, the best North Carolina teams have always had a couple of big bodies that commanded double-teams on the block. Sean May turned into Tyler Hansbrough who eventually became Tyler Zeller. None of UNC’s bigs have that kind of lottery pick potential, but Meeks, Johnson and James are all above average post scorers. Hicks struggles with his confidence in games, but he’s routinely one of UNC’s best players in practice. If he can put it together this season, the Tar Heels will reach another level.
3. Kentucky (Skal Labissiere, Isaac Humphries, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress, Derek Willis)
On paper, Kentucky probably has the most raw talent along their front line. The problem is that none of their five players have proven anything at the college level. Lee has been good in flashes but has yet to play extended minutes. Poythress struggled with his position identity before tearing his ACL. Humphries is a freshman that enrolled a year early. Willis has always been projected as an end of the rotation kind of guy. Labissiere has the talent to be the National Player of the Year, but until we see how he transitions to the college level, it’s tough to know whether he’s going to be great or just simply good. The good news? It’s hard to imagine all five failing to live up to their individual potential.
4. Maryland (Robert Carter, Diamond Stone, Damonte Dodd, Michael Cevosky)
I’m probably higher on this Maryland group that anyone mostly because I love the potential of running high-low offense through Diamond Stone and Robert Carter. Stone is the name you know. A 6-foot-10 four man that can play on the perimeter, he’s a top ten recruit and a potential one and done player. But Carter is the guy that has gotten all the hype since practice started. He averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 boards at Georgia Tech before sitting out last season and shedding a good 20 pounds. Dodd and Cevosky are both better than adequate subs as well.
5. Purdue (A.J. Hammons, Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan)
Like Gonzaga, I love Purdue’s big men individually even if I don’t love them as a group. Hammons, when he’s dialed in, is one of the best big men in the country. He was, more often than not, dialed in last season. Haas is a 7-foot-2 center that showed tons of promise as a freshman, while Edwards, another sophomore, has a chance to be a star at the three after a very good freshman season. Throw in Biggie Swanigan, a McDonald’s All-American and a terrific low-post scoring threat, and Matt Painter is going to have some legendary battles in practice. But Haas and Hammons can’t play at the same time. Can Purdue function offensively with Swanigan at the four and Hammons or Haas at the five?
6. Baylor (Rico Gathers, Jonathan Motley, Taureen Waller-Prince)
I love this Baylor group. Waller-Prince is as underrated as anyone in the country, Gathers is an absolute bully in the paint and Motley has a chance to be this season’s breakout star in the Big 12. When all three are on the floor together — which is possible given Waller-Prince’s versatility — they’re going to be one of the best rebounding teams in the country. The problem? Depth. If Jo Acuil can’t get cleared (he has a heart issue, as if Baylor hasn’t had enough of those), the Bears will have to rely on Terry Maston, who played 11 games as a freshman.
It was hard to know what to do with Kansas here. Bragg is promising, Mickelson and Lucas should be serviceable and Ellis should once again put up first-team all-Big 12 caliber numbers. That’s a good front line, but one that should be closer to No. 15 than No. 7. But if Diallo gets eligible, that changes things, as he’s precisely the piece their missing, an athletic, 6-foot-9 four that plays hard, runs the floor, defends and crashes the glass. He’s everything that Cliff Alexander wasn’t last year, and makes Kansas so much better. He’s also not yet cleared to play. So we slotted them here.
8. Utah (Jakob Poeltl, Brekkot Chapman, Jordan Loveridge, Kyle Kuzma, Chris Reyes)
I like the mix that Larry Krystkowiak has at his disposal here. Poeltl is an elite rim protector with a chance at being a lottery pick, Loveridge is a veteran scoring presence that can space the floor and Chapman and Kuzma are talented sophomores with bright futures. Losing Delon Wright is going to hurt the Utes, but the reason they’ll remain in hunt for a Pac-12 title.
9. Vanderbilt (Damian Jones, Luke Kornet, Djery Baptiste, Jeff Roberson, Samir Sehic)
There’s a chance that Vandy’s ranking here could look far too low by the end of the season. We expect Jones to be a star this season, potentially as the best center in all of college basketball. Baptiste and Roberson both look like quality rotation players and Sehic, a freshman, is an undersized four that always seemed to be able to produce regardless of competition at the high school level. Kornet is the x-factor. People around the program expect the 7-foot-1 sharpshooter to have a big season. If he lives up to the hype, the Commodores will be very dangerous.
There is so much talent on this front line. So much. Morgan and Okonoboh were high profile recruits in the Class of 2014, Jones — a freshman — will be the nation’s best dunker this season and Carter was a starter at Oregon. Zimmerman is the best of a bunch, a versatile, 7-foot lefty whose biggest strength is his ability to pass the ball. Can they live up to their potential is the major question mark here.
11. Virginia (Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, Isaiah Wilkins, Jarrod Reuter)
Losing Darion Atkins, who was so, so good for the Cavs on the defensive end of the floor, is a bigger blow than some may realize. But Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey are both above average post scorers and Isaiah Wilkins is an intriguing prospect that had some promising moments last season. As with just about everyone on Tony Bennett’s roster, these guys are better than their numbers will suggest.
12. Arizona (Kaleb Tarczewski, Ryan Anderson, Mark Tollefsen, Dusan Ristic, Chance Comanche)
Even with Ray Smith done for the year with a torn ACL, the Wildcats deserve a place on this list. That’s what happens when you have this much quality depth. But who is a star in this group? Who scares opposing scouts? Zeus has never lived up to the billing of being a top ten prospect, scouts love Ristic but he has yet to beat out Zeus, Comanche is a freshman that needs a year or two and Tollefson is a transfer from San Francisco. Anderson, who averaged 14.3 points and 7.3 boards at BC, is the best of the bunch on paper, but he lacks explosiveness and is coming off of a redshirt season. He’s the x-factor in this equation.
13. Iowa State (Georges Niang, Jameel McKay, Simeon Carter)
Niang is the single-toughest cover in all of college basketball. A 6-foot-8 power forward, he’s so skilled: he can beat you in the post, he can beat you to the rim from the perimeter, he can pass, he can shoot, he can dribble. He’s a stud. McKay is the perfect compliment, a 6-foot-9 shot-blocker and offensive rebounder. But after those two, there really isn’t much of note in ISU’s front court.
Simmons is going to be must-see TV every time he plays as a freshman. He’s a 6-foot-9 point forward with handle, an innate passing ability and a flair for making highlight reel plays. He’ll notch multiple triple-doubles this season. But where is his front court support? Craig Victor is the most talented of the bunch, but left Arizona because he couldn’t crack the rotation.
15. San Diego State (Malik Pope, Skylar Spencer, Zylan Cheatham, Angelo Chol)
This ranking is based on the assumption that Malik Pope lives up to his potential. He’s got the talent of a lottery pick and the consistentcy — and the health — of a four-year Mountain West big man. Spencer is a shot-blocker extraordinaire, Chol is an above-average high major big man and Cheatham has plenty of promise, but if Pope doesn’t play his way into being a first round pick, this rank will look silly in March.
Others considered: Texas A&M, Cal, Marquette, Wake Forest, Cincinnati, Duke
Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the West Coast Conference.
The West Coast Conference sent two teams to the NCAA tournament last season in Gonzaga, which fell to eventual national champion Duke in the Elite Eight, and BYU. Another multi-bid year seems likely in 2015-16, but there are some questions to be answered as well. Both of the league’s marquee teams lose key contributors on the perimeter, and while there’s room for optimism in Spokane and Provo, the same can be said for a Pepperdine team that returns all five starters. While the favorites seem clear, the WCC race could potentially offer up some surprises as well.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. Gonzaga will have to replace a large portion of its perimeter rotation: The top three contributors from a backcourt that helped lead Mark Few’s team to a school-record 35 wins have all moved on, as Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Byron Wesley are out of eligibility. Into those roles will step players such as seniors Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis, sophomore Silas Melson and redshirt freshman Josh Perkins. The good news for Gonzaga: they’re loaded in the front court. The bad news: their three best players (Kyle Wiltjer, Domas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski) likely cannot be on the floor at the same time.
2. BYU has to account for the graduation of Tyler Haws: The Cougars return three starters from last season’s WCC runner-up squad, led by an NCAA record-holder (most career triple-doubles) in Kyle Collinsworth, and the front court’s healthy after struggling with injuries. But Dave Rose will need to account for the loss of Tyler Haws, who left Provo as the program’s all-time leading scorer. Among those who will look to fill that void are Chase Fischer and Nick Emery, the latter returning from a two-year LDS mission. Haws became of the best scorers in the country after taking his mission. Can Fischer or Emery follow in those footsteps?
3. There’s just one coaching change in the WCC: The lone change occurred at San Diego, where alum Lamont Smith has returned to take over following the firing of Bill Grier. Smith will have to account for the graduation of the program’s all-time leaders in scoring (Johnny Dee), assists and steals (Christopher Anderson for both).
4. Saint Mary’s has a lot to replace from last season: The Gaels returnees made a total of 16 starts last season (sophomore guard Emmett Naar had nine), and five of the team’s top six scorers are gone. The most notable departure is forward Brad Waldow, a first team all-conference selection who led the team in points, rebounds and blocks. That’s a lot of production for Randy Bennett to have to replace.
5. Pepperdine returns all five starters from last season: Head coach Marty Wilson has a talented group to work with, led by All-WCC forward Stacy Davis, and this could be the year in which they crack the Gonzaga/BYU/Saint Mary’s triumvirate. With both depth and experience, and an emerging All-WCC caliber player in sophomore guard Shawn Olden, the Waves are a team to be respected.
Favorite: “It’s Gonzaga. They’re going to be young in the backcourt, but they’ve got a lot of talent and experience in the front court, and Mark’s program has just been so consistent over the years.”
Sleeper: “Everyone’s going to tell you Pepperdine because they won 18 games last year and the whole team’s back. That’s the natural selection based on their success, the type of team they have and the fact that they’re built around a potential Player of the Year candidate in Stacy Davis. When you have guys like that, guys that have been around, they certainly have the opportunity to take that step this year.”
Best player: “I think it’s a tossup between Kyle Wiltjer and Kyle Collinsworth. I would have voted for Wiltjer for Player of the Year last year but he wasn’t on the ballot. But I’d say that one of those two is the best player in our league.”
Most underrated player: “I don’t know if you can call Sabonis underrated, but to me he’s the guy who has the best chance to have the longest pro career based on his efficiency, his footwork and size. I think he’s kinda caught behind two other good players in Wiltjer and Karnowski. But I think [the most underrated player] will show itself early, because there are plenty of opportunities for some of these guys to establish themselves.”
PRESEASON WCC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
Wiltjer’s first season on the court for Gonzaga was a highly productive one, as he was named the WCC’s top newcomer and made some All-America lists as well. Wiltjer accounted for 16.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, shooting better than 54 percent from the field and 44.6 percent from three.
THE REST OF THE WCC FIRST TEAM:
Jared Brownridge, Santa Clara: Averaged 15.9 points per game as a sophomore, making 93 three-pointers (2nd in the WCC) as well.
Kyle Collinsworth, BYU: One of the nation’s most versatile players, Collinsworth was second in the WCC in both rebounding (8.7 rpg) and assists (6.0 apg) last season.
Stacy Davis, Pepperdine: WCC Rookie of the Year as a freshman in 2012-13, Davis has been a first team All-WCC selection in each of the last two seasons.
Domas Sabonis, Gonzaga: Sabonis (9.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg) led the WCC in field goal percentage (66.8) as a freshman, and he’ll see more playing time this year.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga
Alec Wintering, Portland
Emmett Naar, Saint Mary’s
Chase Fischer, BYU
Tim Derksen, San Francisco
BREAKOUT STAR: Chase Fischer, BYU
After transferring in from Wake Forest, Fischer had a solid first season at BYU as he averaged 13.2 points per game. With Tyler Haws out of eligibility Fischer will have the opportunity to do even more offensively. During the team’s trip to Spain this summer Fischer averaged a team-best 17.5 points per game.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Kerry Keating, Santa Clara
After winning the CBI in 2013, the Broncos have won 14 games in each of the last two seasons. Injuries have been an issue at times, but two winning seasons in eight at the helm may lead to fans asking some questions of the head coach. That being said, this year’s group led by junior guard Jared Brownridge could be the ones who turn things around.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Does Gonzaga have the guard play needed to make a run deep into March?
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : Seeing whether or not Pepperdine (or someone else) can crack the “big three” of Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
1. Gonzaga: The front court is one of the nation’s best. How far Few’s Bulldogs go nationally will depend upon the progression of their backcourt.
2. BYU: No more Tyler Haws, but one of the nation’s most versatile players (Kyle Collinsworth) returns to lead the way as a senior.
3. Pepperdine: After winning 18 games last season the Waves should be even better with one of the program’s all-time greats in Davis leading the way.
4. Saint Mary’s: The Gaels have finished in the top half of the WCC every year since 2003, but Randy Bennett has a lot to replace from last year’s 21-win team.
5. Portland: Portland picked up some valuable postseason experience in the CIT, and the return of junior Alec Wintering and senior Bryce Pressley helps matters as well.
6. Santa Clara: The Broncos lost two of their top three scorers in Brandon Clark and Denzel Johnson, but Jared Brownridge returns to lead a young but talented crop of guards.
7. Pacific: Ron Verlin welcomes back three of his top four scorers from last season, led by junior guard T.J. Wallace. This should be the Tigers’ most competitive team since they re-entered the WCC in 2013.
8. San Francisco: Tim Derksen and Devin Watson combined to average 21 points per game last season, but the Dons lost three productive starters and have a total of five returning letterwinners.
9. San Diego: Losing Anderson and Dee really hurts, but players such as Jito Kok and Duda Sanadze will help Lamont Smith in his coaching debut.
10. Loyola Marymount: Losing talented guard Evan Payne (transferred to Long Beach State) hurts for a team in need of offensive firepower.