|No. 19 Gonzaga|
Coach: Mark Few
Years at school: 13 (342-90 all-time)
|Vital Info: No. 19 Gonzaga|
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Best NCAA Tournament finish: NCAA Sweet 16 (2000, 2001, 2006, 2009)
Last season's record: 26-7 (Lost to Ohio State in the third round of NCAA tournament)
Notable returnees from last season: Elias Harris, Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, Sam Dower, Guy Landry-Edi, Kelly Olynyk, Mike Hart, David Stockton, Kyle Dranginis
Notable losses from last season: Robert Sacre, Marquise Carter, Ryan Spangler
Notable newcomers: Przemek Karnowski
Projected starters: G; Kevin Pangos; G: Gary Bell; F: Elias Harris; F: Sam Dower; C: Przemek Karnowski
Why this team will be good: The Zags are always good, but they have a chance to go deeper than they have ever gone before (which is the Elite Eight) -- largely because of balance, experience and size in Spokane. Pangos and Bell have a year under their belt and complement one another extremely well. Pangos can really score and is able to run the team while Bell is a competent scorer -- and does the little things that don't necessarily show up in a box score. Harris is a senior who hasn't lived up to expectations since he arrived from Germany, but he's still a talented forward. Dower gives the Zags a skilled big man who can really shoot it from the perimeter and Karnowski is the wild card, a legitimate 7-footer from Poland who has NBA size and skills. If Few chooses to go smaller, he can insert Guy Landry-Edi at the 3. Whatever the case, that's a potent starting lineup -- not only in the WCC, but just about anywhere. And these guys also have quality depth coming off the bench.
Why this team might disappoint: While Robert Sacre seemed to regress on the court, he was still the team's vocal leader. Few & Co. will need someone to step up and fill that role -- and while Sacre wasn't a big-time rebounder, the Zags still will need someone to control the glass. Dower is more of a finesse guy up front, so it'll fall on Harris and Karnowski -- and the big man from Poland is truly an unknown commodity at this point. Is he for real? Gonzaga can go with a huge frontline of Harris, Dower and Karnowski, but the concern there is on the defensive end and how they will be able to guard quicker, more athletic teams. The Bulldogs also lack a big scoring wing who can drive to the basket and make plays. For the 'Zags, it's a disappointment if they don't win the WCC and get a round or two into the NCAA tournament. I'd be surprising if a WCC title and a victory or two in March didn't happen this season.
Bottom line: The Zags have improved from a year ago with the maturity of their backcourt -- and they have added a potential NBA player (although no one quite knows for sure) in Karnowski. They also redshirted Kelly Olynyk, who has gotten stronger and should be a significant factor in Spokane. There's a reason why Few will never leave Gonzaga. It basically runs itself these days. While they didn't win the regular-season WCC title last season, look for the Zags to start a new streak. This team doesn't have a glaring weakness -- unless you consider not having a big-time scoring wing with size a glaring weakness. But Pangos and Bell in the backcourt with Harris, Dower and Karnowski up front is an intimidating group -- and there's talent on the bench with guys like Olynyk, Mike Hart, David Stockton and Kyle Dranginis.
Quote from an opposing coach in the league: "Every year I say that this could be Gonzaga's best team, but I really think this year it is their best group. Few has tremendous size and depth and phenomenal guards. I'm trying to figure out where is the weak link? I don't think there is one. As good as BYU and Saint Mary's are, I don't think either of them can beat Gonzaga this year."