It seems these days we take Gonzaga basketball for granted.
We are years beyond the days of Gonzaga being a cute little mid-major that was good for an interesting couple of weeks in March. What head coach Mark Few has done in Spokane is simply remarkable.
So quickly we forget the coming-of-age story of this Bulldogs program, mainly because of the recent success of another Bulldog—Butler. Nonetheless, Few is a pioneer, paving the way for other coaches like Brad Stevens or VCU’s Shaka Smart.
Few helped shape the way we view schools outside the BCS leagues and made it cool to coach at small schools. Not to mention, he's successful taking down the big boys.
This year is the 13th season of Mark Few basketball at Gonzaga (23 years overall if you count his time as an assistant). Eleven straight West Coast Conference regular season titles is the running count.
Add to that 13 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. Yeah, I would say expectations are rightfully high once again in the Pacific Northwest.
Two seniors who played major roles a season ago will lead the Bulldogs. Robert Sacre, the team’s top returning scorer and rebounder, will have his work cut out for him in the scoring department if he intends to make up for the absence of the graduated Steven Gray and his three-point marksmanship.
His 12.5 points per game will need a boost. Although, if he continues his strong rebounding and defense (1.9 blocks per game in 2010), it could be addition by subtraction of the other team’s scoring.
The other notable leader for GU is Marquise Carter, the team’s point guard who did well running the show late in the season. His play particularly stood out in the WCC Tournament, and it ultimately won him MVP honors.
Then there is wild card Elias Harris. Coming off a really average season last year, he has a lot to prove. He is the most talented player on the team, so perhaps it’s a bit of a shock to wait this long to mention his name.
His points, rebounds and shooting percentages across the board were down from 2009. However, his role will be valued even more, occupying the wing, sans Gray. As versatile as any forward in the country, Few will be counting on Harris' experience and a big bounce back season from the German-born player.
Gonzaga Bulldogs Incoming Impact Players
If The Bulldogs are going to continue their yearly success out on the left coast, some unknown commodities will need to jump at the chance to make a name for themselves.
One player to keep an eye out for is Gary Bell, Jr. This freshman could be just the guy for the job. Hailing locally from Kent, Washington, the 6'2" shooting guard is undoubtedly the team’s top recruit.
Minus Gray's wing shooting, there is plenty of production that needs to be replaced. Bell was “Mr. Basketball” in the state, so people in Spokane will be familiar with his work on the court. Now it is time for the rest of the country to get acquainted.
2011-12 Gonzaga Basketball Schedule
Gonzaga officially opens their campaign on Friday, Nov. 11, against Eastern Washington at home. They host in-state rival Washington State the following Monday.
Notable games begin early for the ‘Zags, including a home date on Nov. 30 against Notre Dame and their first road test in Champaign against the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday, Dec. 3.
Gonzaga gets no rest after that Illinois game, traveling back to Spokane to host Michigan State that next Saturday, Dec. 10.
A neutral court clash with Arizona beckons in the ‘Battle in Seattle’ on Saturday, Dec. 17. Gonzaga then turns around three days later to host Butler back home in the Kennel on Tuesday, Dec. 20.
Conference play begins on Wednesday, Dec. 28 with a home date against Portland.
Other notable nonconference games include Oral Roberts (Dec. 15) and Xavier (Dec. 31). They welcome BYU to the WCC with their first-time league games against the Cougars Feb. 2 and Feb. 23.
Gonzaga Bulldogs College Basketball Futures Odds
Gonzaga is 30/1 to win the national championship, and, of course, odds-on favorites to yet again capture their 14th straight regular season West Coast Conference title.
2011-12 Gonzaga Predictions for College Basketball
The luster hasn’t worn off. The slipper still fits. Others might be quick to write off the ‘Zags and say their best years are behind them, all while jumping ship to the "hot-right-now" Butlers and VCUs of the college basketball landscape.
Write me down as still an avid follower and believer of Spokane’s most prized export.
If nothing else, you can’t say Few is afraid to challenge his team early and often.
That is a given, although most will argue a weak conference usually results in many walkover games. However, it’s all but expected for the Bulldogs to have one of the tougher nonconference schedules each season.
2011 is no different. We will learn very quickly how good this team is, notably from the back-to-back Big Ten challenges against Illinois and Michigan State before mid-December.
Gonzaga has another run in them. They will run through WCC play, but not before they turn some heads outside their league. They will be good for a couple of Top 25 wins as well as losses, before people sweep them under the rug in January and February.
Expect another WCC title and NCAA Tournament berth. From there, as we have seen in years past, don’t count out the Bulldogs to stir the pot in March.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports college basketball picks Web site.