Gonzaga Basketball: 5 Reasons Bulldogs Fans Should Be Excited for 2012-13

Hayden Deitrick@hdeitrickFeatured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2012

Gonzaga Basketball: 5 Reasons Bulldogs Fans Should Be Excited for 2012-13

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    Gonzaga is coming off a respectable 26-7 season in 2011-12. There was plenty to be excited about last season: a new freshman backcourt; wins over Notre Dame, Xavier, Washington State, West Virginia, St. Mary's and BYU; and the senior season of now-Laker Robert Sacre.

    While the year ended with disappointing losses to St. Mary's in the WCC Championship Game and Ohio State in the NCAA tournament, there is a lot to be excited about moving forward this season.

The Natural Maturation of an Already Dangerous Backcourt

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    Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr. were a revelation in their freshmen seasons a year ago. While Gonzaga has always been known for exceptional guard play, Pangos and Bell seemed to raise the bar as far as expectations go.

    They combined for 24 points a game, roughly a third of the team's average points per game, and each made more than 40 three-pointers. They showed great maturity and ability as freshmen. 

    This backcourt duo filled holes in the starting five and provided stability where there was once doubt. Pangos took control of the offense and provided a solid pace to the attack, while Bell locked down on defense, proving he could guard the best point and shooting guards that the WCC had to provide.

    The combination of Pangos and Bell flat-out made Gonzaga a better, more rounded team.

    With one season under their belts, it will be interesting to see how they continue to progress this season. Mark Few is quoted (via SI.com) as saying, "Pangos is in the gym every night until 10 or 11. Now he's starting to drag guys with him." With Pangos and Bell working hard during this offseason, it is hard not to be excited for what they might accomplish this coming year. 

    Gonzaga fans will enjoy watching these two grow together as basketball players and teammates because the sky is truly the limit for what they might accomplish.

The Emergence of Freshman Center Przemek Karnowski

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    Just a few days ago, 7'1" Polish center Przemek Karnowski arrived on campus.

    Karnowski has drawn a lot of attention this offseason. Gonzaga fans checked Twitter and other media outlets daily to hear the latest on his recruiting saga and rejoiced when he eventually committed to come play in Spokane—and rightfully so.

    Karnowski is an incredible talent who has flown under the radar of many teams because he played his youth basketball overseas. He has been compared to Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol by ESPN analyst Fran Fraschila.

    Karnowski has a skill set that is prototypical of a European center. According to DraftExpress, he has a good back-to-the-basket game, the ability to pass out of double-teams and can shoot from outside the key.  At 7'1" and 271 pounds, Karnowski is going to provide matchup nightmares for WCC centers all year long. 

    This summer, Karnowski competed with the Polish senior national team. He proved that he could rub elbows with the likes of Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat, and Karnowski averaged 10.06 points per game for the Polish club team Siarka Jezioro Tarnobrzeg.

    This mix of talent and experience makes Karnowski a very interesting prospect for the coming season.

Elias Harris Must Play His Way into the NBA

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    Elias Harris had arguably his most consistent season a year ago, averaging 13.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He showed incredible competitiveness, especially against rival St. Mary’s.

    Many saw last season as a bounce-back year for Harris, who followed up his incredible freshman season with a sophomore slump that saw his numbers dip. 

    Harris already has drawn the attention of individuals such as Fran Fraschilla with his performance at the Nike LeBron James Skills Academy this summer. Fraschilla praised Harris' efforts at the camp:

    Harris carried himself like a veteran… -- he is 23 years old -- and from that standpoint he was impressive. He played hard, challenged the rim and didn't mind trying to dunk on people with his athleticism. He may have impressed NBA scouts, but he proved to be one of the better players here.

    If Harris wants to secure himself a spot in the NBA, he will have to prove to scouts that he has not yet reached his ceiling. He seems to play his best on the biggest stages (see: St. Mary’s rivalry games, the WCC Championship Game, Battle In Seattle, etc.). Every game will be a big game for Harris this season. To work his way into the NBA draft, he must play each and every game with the same intensity he brought to those big-stage games last year.

    If he does, Harris is a shoo-in for the WCC Player of the Year award and likely will attract attention on the national scale.

Sam Dower Set to Have a Breakout Season

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    Sam Dower is poised for a breakout season this year after he was the proverbial sixth man of each and every game last season.

    Dower was seen as instant offense off the bench for Mark Few, scoring 8.3 points per game in the 18 minutes he averaged. He scored in double figures in 11 games, including a 20-point performance against Xavier, and he did all this while being stuck behind senior center Robert Sacre. For these reasons, ESPN college basketball writer Eamonn Brennan listed Dower as one of his potential breakout players for the 2012-2013 season. 

    Dower is now No. 1 on the depth chart, and many believe he will make the most of this opportunity. CBS Sports college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein tweeted the following:

    Of all players set for breakout years, Gonzaga's Sam Dower may be at the top of my list. Ready to explode. Could be a 15 and 8 guy.

    — Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) Aug. 28, 2012

    Add those 15 points per game to a starting lineup that returns four starters who combined for 42.6 points per game, and you have an incredibly potent offense that Gonzaga fans will be excited to watch game in and game out.

Another Solid Non-Conference Schedule

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    The Zags have again scheduled an impressive (and difficult) non-conference schedule.

    A couple of key games, including West Virginia at home to begin the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon, are particularly intriguing. Other games that promise to be exciting are home games against Illinois and Baylor, an away game at Butler and neutral-site games against Kansas State and Clemson. 

    The matchup against Clemson is Gonzaga's opening game in the Old Spice Classic tournament in Orlando. Gonzaga is favored by many to win this tournament, which also features a field that includes Oklahoma, Davidson, West Virginia and Vanderbilt. 

    These tough non-conference games and the Old Spice Classic will give Gonzaga fans a great first look at the talented team that the Bulldogs will bring in this season. A good showing and minimal losses during this stretch will elevate Gonzaga's ranking and put them in the pole position for a good seed come March.

And Much, Much More

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    These are just a few of the many things Gonzaga fans have to be excited about for the coming season. Some honorable mentions include:

    • The return of Kelly Olynyk from a redshirt season
    • Kyle Dranginis' freshman season
    • The transfer of Drew Barham from Memphis
    • The quest to reclaim the WCC championship from St. Mary's

    I leave it to you, Zag fans—what else are you excited for this season?