Gonzaga Basketball: The 4 Biggest Question Marks Entering the Season
Gonzaga basketball kicked off the season with their annual scrimmage at "Kraziness in the Kennel."
The Zags are coming off a season which saw it as the top-ranked team in the nation, as well as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
After a heartbreaking loss to Wichita State, Gonzaga is back and ready to finally make a push for the second weekend in March this season.
That being said, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the new look Zags.
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With the losses of All-American center Kelly Olynyk and All-WCC forward Elias Harris, the Zags are for the first time in years without a solid rotation of big men.
The standouts in Gonzaga’s frontcourt are Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski, who will both look to utilize the minutes they will now receive as the presumed starters for the Zags.
Dower has been an offensive juggernaut off the bench over the past two seasons. If you adjust his numbers to 30 minutes per game, he would average double digits in scoring and over five rebounds per game.
Karnowksi, a 7-footer out of Poland, has seen improvement in his conditioning over the past season, but he will have to work on continuing to integrate himself better with this offense as he looked out of place at times last season.
The real question at hand is what the Zags will do if either of these big men get into serious foul trouble or if either pick up an injury.
The only true big man expected to play next season behind Dower and Karnowski is freshman center Ryan Edwards. While expectations for Edwards are high, most are not expecting him to light it up in his first season.
The Zags may have to rely on small forwards such as Drew Barham and Angel Nunez, when he becomes eligible after the first semester, to step up and guard opposing power forwards.
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Gonzaga’s strength this season will be with their backcourt.
The Bulldogs return juniors Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who have been elements of consistency in their first two seasons, but the two guards will be asked to finally take the lead in this offense.
The Zags also add transfer Gerard Coleman, who averaged 13.2 PPG for Providence in the Big East two seasons ago. After an offseason to learn the Gonzaga system and work on his game, expectations are very high for Coleman as he is integrated with an already very well respected backcourt.
Also in the mix is senior point guard David Stockton, who was a catalyst for the Gonzaga offense off the bench. He was played in a three-guard rotation or more often paired with Pangos, who would move over to shooting guard, and he was very effective in breaking full court pressure and zones last season.
While many expect the starting backcourt to be a three-guard set with Pangos, Bell Jr. and Coleman leading the team in minutes, there is a possibility that, out of necessity, the Zags will run a four-guard rotation.
All of Gonzaga’s guards can shoot at a high percentage from beyond the arc, and with a big man like Karnowski to clean up the glass in the middle, the Zags could rely on backdoor cuts through an open paint area and three pointers to score.
It will certainly be interesting to see how this backcourt rotation works itself out at the beginning of the season.
Challengers in the WCC
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Gonzaga’s greatest challenge in the WCC has typically come from St. Mary’s, who ended Gonzaga’s run of consecutive WCC Championships two seasons ago.
The Gaels, however, had a pretty dismal offseason. After losing their star point guard, Matthew Dellavedova, to graduation, St. Mary’s was dealt another blow when his replacement, Cullen Neal, decided to ask to be released from his scholarship at St. Mary’s to play for his father at New Mexico.
BYU, though, will be a dangerous offense in the WCC and they should step into the role the Gaels have played in pushing the Zags for the championship.
With the return of talented players such as Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino, as well as the addition of Kyle Collinsworth, BYU will pose a terrific matchup for the Bulldogs.
Challenges in the Non-Conference
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Gonzaga will be playing in the Maui Invitational this season. They will open with Dayton, and could play top teams such as Baylor and Syracuse should they advance. Winning the tournament would be the type of victory the Zags need to show it still belongs in the elite program conversation.
Also on the slate for the Bulldogs will be Memphis, Colorado State, Washington State, New Mexico State and West Virginia.
The Bulldogs will face another challenging non-conference schedule this season, but it is unlikely the Zags will repeat the success it had last season with just two losses outside the WCC.
The question at hand is how the Zags will respond to the trials and tribulations it avoided last season and how the team will bounce back after losses?