Tomorrow, Angel Nunez will play his first game for Gonzaga when the Bulldogs head to Kansas to do battle with Kansas State, a final tune-up before jumping into conference play next week.
Nunez is a 6'8" redshirt sophomore who sat out the first 11 games of the season per NCAA rules after he transferred from Louisville last winter. Entering his sophomore season at Louisville, the forward sustained a severe concussion that ended his season before it even began. Coupled with his limited role as a freshman, during which he appeared in just 12 games, Nunez has yet to play a significant role at the college level.
But don’t let his lack of experience fool you.
As assistant coach Tommy Lloyd put it, Nunez is “a talented player [who is] long, skilled, and athletic.”
His size and athleticism will add much needed frontcourt depth for the Zags, their most glaring weakness so far this season. The team consistently plays just two big men, Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski. If Nunez can effectively add an additional frontcourt presence, Gonzaga will improve drastically. This improvement would be vital to defending the team’s WCC crown in an underrated and talented conference.
The Zags (10-1) enter tomorrow’s tilt versus Kansas State ranked 21st in the latest AP poll, anchored by an electric offense that averages 87.5 points per game, the eighth highest clip in the nation.
The biggest reason for Gonzaga’s success thus far is their offensive efficiency. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. lead Coach Mark Few’s up-tempo offense, combining to average 33.2 points per game. Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski have been the only solid contributors to the team’s frontcourt, reluctantly forcing Coach Few to play with smaller lineups when Dower or Karnowski aren’t on the floor.
And while Pangos, Bell and the two big men will play a significant role in the Zags’ quest to defend their conference title, it’s safe to say we know what to expect from them. The rotation that played the first 11 games made clear that strength is the ability to score.
However, the Bulldogs have also made clear what their weakness is: The team lacks depth, especially in the frontcourt.
In the team’s only loss, 84-79 to Dayton in the Maui Invitational, the lack of a big body off the bench ended up costing them. Sam Dower got into foul trouble and missed key stretches of the game, as noted by Coach Few in his press conference following the game:
“We were battling foul trouble all game long so we had some strange lineups and scenarios out there.”
These “strange lineups” may also be characterized as small; making rebounding and rim protection difficult.
As he gets his legs underneath him, Angel Nunez has the opportunity to help Gonzaga overcome its biggest crutch. The team can go big if Nunez plays the 3 alongside both Dower and Karnowski. He can provide additional versatility and play the 4.
And at the very least, guard David Stockton summarized Nunez’s presence in its simplest form: “It’s nice, he gives us an extra 5 fouls.”
When factoring in the competition the Zags will play in conference, Nunez becomes even more important. At Saint Mary’s, Brad Waldow uses his 260-pound frame effectively and USC-transfer Garrett Jackson adds another big body to deal with. USF forward Cole Dickerson has great rebounding ability (7.6 boards per game).
Moreover, history has taught us that every team will gun for the perennial WCC power from Spokane. Teams will play with added motivation and aggressively attack Gonzaga’s apparent weakness in the frontcourt—a flaw that Angel Nunez can curb.
Speaking to Nunez’s game, the naysayers were quick to look for flaws when news broke regarding his transfer. Former ESPN basketball analyst Dave Telep tweeted about Nunez’s unfulfilled potential last year, saying:
But throughout the marathon that is conference play, that is all Nunez needs to be: an energy guy who uses his athleticism to defend and his size to haul in valuable rebounds.
A serviceable role player.