INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 05: Nolan Smith #2 of the Duke Blue Devils moves the ball in the first half while taking on the Butler Bulldogs during the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Several big time programs have already gone down to division two opposition so that must mean college basketball is back for another season. With Gonzaga starting in a few days, it seems like the ideal time for Max and I to deliver our general thoughts and predictions on the 2010-11 season.
In this preview, we will give our predictions on Gonzaga's conference schedule, share some of our bold thoughts on the upcoming season, and do what we can to predict how things will look come March/Early April. We always look forward to these previews and welcome any predictions or thoughts you may have as well!
Preview Gonzaga's Conference Schedule:
Max Mandel (follow me on Twitter @maxmandel21): Projected Conference Record: 14-0
I know that some people may think that LMU and St. Mary's may be strong contenders in the conference this season, but no matter what each team might offer, no one can offer the trio of Harris, Gray and Sacre. While the WCC is improving, there is still no team in the league that can match the depth that Gonzaga offers, along with the combination of athleticism and length. As long as the coaching staff can keep this group focused during WCC play, especially with the fact that a strong WCC run could see Gonzaga earn a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament, this group should replicate the success of the '09 team with an undefeated conference run.
Zach Bell (follow me on Twitter @zadobell): Projected Conference Record: 13-1
When I first sat down to write this post, I had the Zags going 12-2 in conference play. After last season, it is hard for me to envision Gonzaga going undefeated in the WCC with the kinds of issues we are still battling. Leaving Gonzaga's issues aside for a moment, there is a lot to be excited about when we look at the West Coast Conference. While Portland and Saint Mary's are going through a bit of a transition process, there are still a a number of dangerous teams which Gonzaga must face twice. This starts with LMU and Saint Mary's. Loyola Marymount returns virtually everyone and has two contenders for WCC player of the year in Drew Viney and Vernon Teel. If they can't knock off the Zags, look out for Santa Clara. The Broncos welcome back All-WCC performer Kevin Foster and have a solid core which should make some waves in conference play.
Three Predictions You Might Not See Elsewhere:
1) Two members of this team will be selected in the 1st round of the 2011 NBA draft: While Elias Harris seems like a given, I will go ahead and predict that Steven Gray finally puts everything together and emerges as a 1st round pick after this season. He has the size and athleticism to be an ideal SG at the next level, but inconsistency has prevented him from every being discussed as a guy who can thrive at the next level. However, I think that Steven will embrace the role of a leader this year, and put together the type of season that makes the NBA guys drool. I know one NBA decision-maker at the WCC Tournament last season thought Steven had clear NBA potential, and I think this is the year that a lot more people realize this to be true.
2) Gonzaga will be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament: This schedule does an excellent job of setting this team up to be a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Should the Zags enter WCC play with a record around 12-4 or 13-3, it will set the team up to earn a protected seed. Combine this with the fact that I expect the WCC to have a higher RPI than normal due to the depth in the conference, this team is setup to be a high seed and avoid the dreaded match up with a No. 1 seed until the Elite 8.
3) Mangisto Arop will be biggest question mark in the rotation: While the constant theme throughout the offseason has been how this team can overcome all of the point guard issues that are bound to exist, I tend to believe that point guard play will be the least of the worries this season. Instead, I have turned my focus to Mangisto Arop. Both Zach and I have routinely written how great we think Manny can be during his Gonzaga career. However, the numerous reports and quotes that we have heard seem to indicate that Manny has yet to find a way to translate his effort in games to the practice floor. If Manny can't earn the confidence of the staff in practice, it's difficult to see how he can earn steady minutes in the rotation. Therefore, it wouldn't surprise me see Kelly Olynyk or Mathis Monninghoff earn the starting spot sooner rather than later. This could all be pointless if Manny can step up his consistency, but until then, I expect the SF position to be continually evolving.
1) Steven Gray will continue to be...Steven Gray: An enigma unlike anything I've ever really seen on the basketball court, Steven Gray has been one of the most interesting players to even come to Gonzaga. While many expect Steven to suddenly flip the switch and become consistent, I can't help but think that with Steven Gray, it simply is what it is. He'll have games where you think he's the best Zag this side of Dickau and he'll have games where you are pleading for Gary Bell to drive over from Kentridge and suit up. I do think he will embrace a greater leadership role but I don't envision him taking a major leap and improving on his 14 point output from a season ago.
2) Elias Harris will be a first team All-American this season: If his shoulder injury does not turn out to be chronic, I am extremely confident in this prediction. There wasn't any star player in the country last season that worked harder for his points than Elias Harris. While many believe Harris will fall into some sophomore slump this season due to double teams and other factors, I urge you to re-watch some games from last season. Harris was double-teamed about three games in the season and had to deal with defenders sagging off our backcourt players and Mark Few's desire to force feed Robert Sacre. This season, I expect Elias Harris to be option #1 and #2 for the Zags. The word is that his ball handling has improved greatly compared to last season which is the one area I thought he needed a major upgrade. Elias will be a household name by conference play.
3) Kelly Olynyk and Sam Dower will give Gonzaga the best chance to win: The previous point assumes that Elias makes a smooth transition to the small forward. When I think about what makes this team tick, all I think about is athleticism, versatility, and running. With Demetri Goodson at point guard, it is my feeling that you have to play to his strengths. In Kelly Olynyk and Sam Dower, you have two guys that can run up and down the floor and can score in a multitude of ways. Granted, each of these players has MUCH to prove at this level, I look at them in a lineup with Meech, Steven Gray, and Elias and can't help but think that is a team few opponents can run with. A guy like Robert Sacre will still be integral, but I just think Kelly and Sam's skill set fit so well with guys like Meech, Manny, Steven, and Elias
Honorable mention: Mathis Monninghoff will become extremely difficult to keep off the court by conference play.
Predicting the Sweet 16 and Beyond...
Sweet 16: Gonzaga, Duke, Michigan St., UNLV, Temple, Kansas St., Washington, North Carolina St., Memphis, Kentucky, Wichita St., Ohio St., Missouri, Minnesota, Georgia, Mississippi St.
Elite 8: Gonzaga, Duke, UNLV, Ohio St., Missouri, Wichita St., North Carolina St., Minnesota
Final 4: Gonzaga, Ohio St., Duke, Missouri
Champion: Ohio St.
Sweet 16: Kansas State, Gonzaga, Duke, Michigan State, Ohio State, Baylor, Missouri, Memphis, Wisconsin, Temple, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, BYU, NC State, North Carolina, Villanova
Elite 8: Kansas State, Duke, Michigan State, Temple, Missouri, Baylor, BYU, Villanova
Final 4: Kansas State, Duke, Michigan State, Baylor
Champion: Kansas State
Agree...disagree...think we're crazy? Chime in on the comments below!