Last season, Gonzaga spent four weeks at No. 1 and seven weeks at No. 2 in the AP Top 25 poll, which is where it finished in the final rankings. The only team ahead of the Bulldogs at the end was Kansas, which also spent four weeks at No. 1 and the entire season in the top six before finishing on top.
But the two best teams in the country never got to settle it on the court last season, as their chance of potentially meeting in the Final Four as No. 1 seeds came crashing down when college basketball's postseason was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So perhaps it's only fitting that the No. 1 Bulldogs and No. 6 Jayhawks will begin their 2020-21 seasons against each other Thursday in the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off.
The pandemic is still raging and both teams' rosters look a bit different than they did last season, but a showdown between top-10 teams is something any college hoops fan can be thankful for, especially in 2020. That this is just the second all-time meeting between Gonzaga and Kansas makes it even sweeter.
There was some concern the game would be played when a member of the Gonzaga travelling party tested positive for COVID-19. However, no players tested positive and the game was allowed to be played. Here's the statement issued Thursday from Fort Myers Tip Off tournament organizers:
The medical staffs from the four participating institutions of the Fort Myers Tip-Off collaborated diligently to establish agreed upon COVID-19 testing procedures and protocols for the event. Following testing of all team travel parties on Wednesday, which included 112 PCR tests, one positive result from a non-student-athlete was confirmed from the Gonzaga travel party. Event organizers activated its medical protocols and contacted the Florida Department of Health to independently conduct contact tracing measures. At the conclusion of their investigation, two close, non-student-athlete Gonzaga contacts were identified. All three individuals are isolating in their hotel rooms under the supervision of their institution's medical team. The medical staffs from all programs deemed today's games can be played as scheduled.
Kansas: The Jayhawks lost three starters, including college basketball's best guard-big man duo in Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. But the Jayhawks return Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Garrett and fellow athletic wing Ochai Agbaji, who were both starters on last year's 28-3 team. After that, coach Bill Self will be mixing a group of experienced reserves with a couple of intriguing newcomers as he enters his 18th season at Kansas. It will be particularly intriguing to see if five-star freshman shooting guard Bryce Thompson and/or junior college transfer Tyson Grant-Foster can emerge as an efficient scorer to help ease the Jayhawks' offensive burden.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs had seven players average between 9.8 and 17.5 points per game last season. Four of them have departed, but the three who return are each potential superstars. The trio of guard Joel Ayayi, versatile forward Corey Kispert and big man Drew Timme should be lethal. If they need any help, freshman guard Jalen Suggs enters as the highest-rated recruit in Mark Few's 22 years as coach. He's one of three top-100 signees in the 2020 class for Gonzaga. Transfer guards Andrew Nembhard from Florida and Aaron Cook from Southern Illinois are entering the picture as well after proving to be solid players in their previous stops. This overflow of talent is the reason why this Gonzaga team is the first in program history to land the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25 preseason poll.
- When: Thursday, Nov. 26 1:30 p.m. ET
- Where: Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, Florida
- TV: Fox | Streaming: fuboTV (try for free)
Kansas vs. Gonzaga prediction, pick
Kansas is recalibrating its entire identity following the departures of Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike as so much of what it did last season was based around that dominant duo. The Jayhawks have the talent to handle the task well and will compete for a Big 12 title. But it might take a few games for them to find an offensive rhythm. Gonzaga lost some nice producers, but it has all the tools and talent to seamlessly play the same efficient style that carried to a 31-2 record last season. The Bulldogs should cover this time. Then we can start hoping for an NCAA Tournament rematch. Pick: Gonzaga -4