Quick introduction - hello everyone. My name, as my handle suggests, is Peter Woodburn. I am a Gonzaga alum from close to a decade ago and have been contributing to the SB Nation college hoops site for the past couple of years. I sometimes come across a bit bitter and jaded but that is what a lifetime of being a Mariners fan will do to you. Hopefully I can enjoy the winning tradition of the Zags a bit more, and I hope you enjoy my contributions to this great community.
Regardless on your view of the result of last season, whether it be the greatest or one of the more disappointing seasons in team history, one thing everyone can agree on -- it is so good to have Gonzaga basketball back.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs (not to be confused with the Bryant Bulldogs) are a familiar team with an equal amount of questions circling around. The lovely faces of Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris and Mike Hart have gone on to greener pastures. Two potential high impact transfers in Gerard Coleman and Angel Nunez will begin their Gonzaga careers this season. The stable backcourt of Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos is the teams official strength in scouting reports, but with Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski up front, the Zags have more than enough weapons to compete with the best this season.
The first test, no matter how insignificant it might seem, is the Bryant Bulldogs on Saturday.
Meet the opponent
Bryant Bulldogs: 19-12 (12-6) last season, 182 Kenpom, 170 RPI
There isn't a whole lot of information out there on the Bryant Bulldogs, largely because they made the jump to Division I only a few years ago. A quick Wikipedia search says Ernie "Coach" Pantusso (also known by his real life name of Nicholas Colasanto) from "Cheers" graduated from there -- giving Bryant the coolest famous alumni of opponents so far this season. Back on the sports side of things, they have spent three seasons in the Northeast Conference, the home of No. 15 and No. 16 NCAA Tournament seed favorites Robert Morris and Long Island University.
Like all teams making the segue into the Division I grind, life was a bit rough for the Bulldogs a couple years ago. They went just 2-28 in the 2011-12 season, but made big in roads last season. They finished with a record of 19-12 overall and tied for second in the conference.
A big reason for the win total jump rests on the shoulders of junior guard Dyami Starks. Starks transferred from Columbia after his freshman season and sat out the 2011-12 season. What the Bulldogs got when he started was a player averaging 17.7 points per game who isn't afraid to take the outside shot. Starks led the NEC in three-pointers attempted and made, shooting 40.8 percent from beyond the arc while averaging seven attempts a game.
Starks is complimented down low by senior forward Alex Francis. Francis has been the face for the Bulldogs the entirety of his career. He averaged 17.4 points and 8.6 rebounds a game last season and is on pace to end his collegiate career as the only NEC player with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. Even though he is a bit undersized at 6'6, Francis is a stocky fellow weighing in at 205 pounds. He doesn't go for blocks very often, but is smart on defense and doesn't get bullied around. Despite averaging nearly 35 minutes a game last season, Starks only fouled out once.
What to look for
With it being the first game and all, there is more than enough to look for and extrapolate from as the season opens. The potential of these Gonzaga Bulldogs can go either way, largely in part because the supporting cast members are relative unknowns. Even the knowns for Gonzaga fans, the likes of Drew Barham and Kyle Dranginis, haven't seen as many minutes as they will likely see this year. How they respond will be a big indicator for the team.
Specifically, the matchup against Bryant on the defensive end presents two interesting challenges. First off, it isn't a trade secret that the Zags are often troubled against the outside shot. We didn't need the Wichita State three-point barrage to emphasize that point, but teaching the guys how to defend on the perimeter hasn't been coach Mark Few's forte. Starks is exactly the kind of opposing player who pops up with a career high in points from the Zags.
Secondly, the consistency and experience of Francis will be a nice indicator for how the defense of Dower and Karnowski has progressed. Dower, for all of his offensive capabilities, sometimes plays defense about as well as butter defends microwaves. With Karnowski, his lack of minutes last season makes it tough to gauge how good he is on the defensive end. Between the two, Gonzaga should have no problem containing Francis. If they do, it could spell problems against future opponents.
On paper, the Zags should win this game by 40 points. But paper is just that, something we write and pontificate on. With the Gonzaga rotation needing a bit of ironing out as the season opens, the Bryant Bulldogs could sneak in with a pretty solid showing. A solid showing still won't translate to a win for them though. The Gonzaga Bulldogs should have no issues starting the season 1-0.