It may not count officially in the record books and it probably won't have any lasting effect on the season but tonight marks the beginning of the 2009-10 college basketball season for the Gonzaga Bulldogs. There will be a great deal of excitement in the air this evening as this team is full of fresh faces, high hopes, and great enthusiasm. By now we have documented the eight newcomers; five true freshman, a sophomore transfer, and two redshirt freshman. Combine that with the two walk-ons who have never seen D1 time and you're probably looking at your team of the future two years down the road!
Tonight's match up with the University of Alberta is meant specifically as a tune-up game before the season starts. While it is pretty clear that there is an overall talent disparity between college basketball in the states and college basketball in Canada, the University of Alberta is a notoriously successful program that has gone through some major changes recently. The three-time national champions have had to cope with the resignation of their 26-year head coach, Don Horwood who left the program with a winning percentage of over 60%. Alberta did an outstanding job replacing Horwood as they brought in Greg Francis, who has been a force in the Canadian national program and even coach Mangisto Arop and Kelly Olynyk earlier this summer in the junior world championships. Coach Francis is a blog favorite because he gave us a great interview in August about Manny, Kelly, and Bol.
One of the benefits of being on the SB Nation network of blogs is that there is a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips. Ray Bala, who is the Canadian basketball writer for RaptorsHQ, a Toronto Raptors blog, was kind enough to put together a preview of Alberta for us which you can read after the jump...
Here is Ray's look at the Alberta Golden Bears...
The Alberta Golden Bears are looking to continue the success they had under former coach Don Horwood. Horwood stepped down last season and was replaced by Greg Francis, former head coach of Canada's National Elite Development Academy. Probably the best available young coach in Canada, the former star at Fairfield in the late 90s, Francis was able to bring in a good bunch of newbies to mix with the holdovers for his first season as head coach. There is a good set of guards and post players with any player seemingly able to carry the scoring load when needed. The Golden Bears will be relatively young across the board but should be able to able to compensate with key returnees in lead positions.
The team brings back some senior leadership in the backcourt with Scott Leigh and fifth year senior Harvey Bradford. Leigh, a point who can also swing to the two spot, is a major deep threat when he's on. Bradford has had a big scoring outburst this season already and can light it up if given the opportunity. Adding to the guard rotation is freshman Jordan Baker. Baker, a 6'7" swingman, is the prize of the new recruits. He can play inside or out at various positions and should be an impact player this year.
In the frontcourt, the Golden Bears will be anchored by 6'7" transfer Jamaal Bucknor in the middle. Bucknor averaged 13 points a year ago for Concordia College and should be a beast in the paint. By his side, Alberta will have six other 6'7" or taller options including freshman 6'10" Rob Dewar. Dewar, who played with Manny Arop on both the NEDA team as well as the U19 National Team in New Zealand this summer, had spurned offers in the NCAA to play for Francis and has the potential to be an inside/outside threat in the mold of a Dirk Nowitzki. Also returning is fourth year post Jeff Stork to bring experience.
You can see that Ray has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Canadian hoops so we greatly thank him for putting this together for us. Leigh, Bradford, and Bucknor appear to be the trio to stop for the Gonzaga Bulldogs tonight. As you can see by his breakdown, size is not a strength of the Golden Bears as their biggest solid contributor is 6'7''. This means that Andy Poling, Rob Sacre, Elias Harris, and Will Foster will probably be the biggest guys on the court most of the game as Alberta's big freshman Rob Dewar hasn't seen a whole lot of consistent action yet.
With that being said, here are a few things we'd love to see tonight:
1. Aggressive, confident play in the paint: Alberta isn't an overly big team. Michigan State and Wake Forest are. Gonzaga's key tonight is to establish guys like Rob Sacre, Andy Poling, and Elias Harris to get the ball rolling on their 2009-10 season early and often so that they are playing at a high level. This will take some effort by the guards as they'll have to give them passes they can handle in spots where they can be successful. Tune-up games like these are meant to work on areas in question and there's no doubt that the frontcourt for Gonzaga is that question.
2. Veterans make their minutes count: The last thing Gonzaga fans should want to see is a 15 point win loaded with turnovers and missed opportunities. If guys like Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray, Demetri Goodson, and Robert Sacre can get out there and play hard and bury Alberta from the get go, Coach Few will have a lot more time to work on things with the young guys. If they stick around because Matt is off the mark, or Steven decided not to show up, or Rob continues to struggle in the paint, it is going to be a frustrating evening for the Bulldogs.
3. How good are the freshmen? We've heard all sorts of stories and tales about the six brand new faces of the 2009 recruiting class and it will be great to finally get some tape on these guys. Mangisto Arop, Kelly Olynyk, and Bol Kong will all be familiar with the University of Alberta and Greg Francis so you can bet that they will want to have a good game for their new team. I expect Elias Harris to start and set the tempo for the freshmen and also expect to see Manny and GJ get some quality minutes as well.
Prediction time: This is a tough one because I have literally no clue what the expect from Alberta besides box scores and what Ray Bala told us but I'll say 84-59 Gonzaga with Elias Harris as the leading scorer when it is all said and done.