Gonzaga Basketball: What Sam Dower's Injury May Mean for the Zags

Hayden DeitrickFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2013

Nov 27, 2013; Lahaina, HI, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Sam Dower Jr. (35) dribbles the ball around Arkansas Razorbacks during the final round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzaga basketball suffered a loss to Kansas State on Saturday, but the greater loss may be that of Sam Dower, who sustained what could be a very serious injury to his hip.

Toward the end of the first half, Dower hit the ground hard and was not quick to get up. With assistance, however, Dower was able to make it back to the locker room.

Presently, no details have been released regarding the severity of his injury, but based on first glance and reports from inside the locker room by ESPN's Sean Farnham, there is a chance that Dower may miss some time moving forward this season.

Dower, a fifth-year senior, has flourished this season after finally cracking the starting lineup. After three seasons backing up the likes of Robert Sacre, Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk, Dower has clearly been the focal point of Gonzaga’s frontcourt offense.

Dower, a tremendous scorer and rebounder, has averaged 14.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Should Dower miss time due to Saturday's injury, Mark Few’s greatest challenge is going to be finding a way to match this production with the talent he currently has on his roster.

After the graduation of Harris and Olynyk last season, the Zags have been left with a dilapidated frontcourt. Gonzaga’s only two players besides Dower who stand over 6’9” are sophomore Przemek Karnowski and freshman Ryan Edwards.

Karnowski has started every game for the Zags this season, and he has shown signs of true brilliance. At 7’1”, Karnowski has the physical size to dominate most collegiate big men, and this was certainly on display in his 19-point, 13-rebound performance against West Virginia.

If Dower is to miss time, Karnowski is going to have to step up in a big way to fill the void in frontcourt production.

Edwards, on the other hand, has been largely untested. There was an initial thought that Edwards, like many past Gonzaga big men, including Dower, could benefit from a redshirt season. Few ultimately decided against redshirting the big man out of Montana, and the question moving forward if he does not find time on the court in the absence of Dower will be why he made this decision.

Based on Few’s actions in the second half of the Kansas State game without Dower, Gonzaga may have to play a smaller, guard-laden offense. 

The two main recipients of Dower’s minutes were small forwards Kyle Dranginis and Drew Barham.

Both Dranginis and Barham have the ability to spread the defense out to the three-point line, but neither of these two have the height or defensive skill set to consistently contest true power forwards. Furthermore, neither average more than four rebounds per game.

October 13, 2012; Louisville, KY, USA;    Louisville Cardinals red squad center Gorgui Dieng (10) reaches around Louisville Cardinals white squad forward Angel Nunez (1) for the ball during the second half of the red-white intrasquad scrimmage at the KFC
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

One interesting candidate who may have to fill in for Dower is transfer Angel Nunez, who only just became eligible to play for the Zags Saturday after his first semester transfer from Louisville last season.

Nunez is truly an unknown commodity. At 6’8”, he has the height and the athleticism to compete with WCC power forwards, but his offensive skills are largely unknown and it is unclear what type of chemistry he may have with the current roster.

Ultimately, the loss of Dower, for any amount of time, could prove catastrophic for a team that desperately needs his size, production and leadership.

Dower's absence was immediately felt in a largely ineffective second half against Kansas State, and this was immediately recognized by a variety of college basketball analysts.

By losing a key member of its frontcourt, Gonzaga could now see its greatest weaknesses become that much weaker.

Gonzaga fans must now hope for good news on this front because if Dower is indeed forced to miss time, and if Few cannot find the correct replacement for him, this could be a lost season for what appeared to be a very exciting team.