Tomorrow afternoon, the Gonzaga Bulldogs will officially open up their season against the Pittsburgh Panthers. There is a lot of excitement rolling through the Gonzaga ranks, and justifiably so.
Kyle Wiltjer is getting a lot of national love. The Zags as a team are also getting a lot of national love, placing in the preseason AP poll at No. 9, and most bracketologists too soon guesses have the Zags sitting at a No. 3 seed.
With that in mind, let's make some of our own predictions for the 2015-16 school year. Some of these are bold, some of these are stupid, and some of these are just counter-intuitive. But right now, without us knowing much about how this team will fare, everything is a point that can be argued.
1) Kyle Wiltjer will not win the player of the year.
Coming out of the gates, guns blazing, negativity in full effect. Players of the Year are often looked at in that old baseball statistics sort of way. Points per game still mean a lot to people, and that is where Wiltjer will suffer. The Bulldogs should play at a high pace, and plenty of points are there to be scored. But Wiltjer will have to share that scoring burden with plenty of capable offensive weapons. Wiltjer averaged 16.8 points per game last season while playing 27.6 minutes per game. His minutes might go up a tick, but there isn't much reason to think that Wiltjer will play 40 minutes a game. Few just doesn't need him to.
Wiltjer was ridiculously efficient last season, and there isn't anything to suggest he won't be again this season. But Domantas Sabonis will be getting more minutes, cutting a bit into the scoring pie. His prime competition, Ben Simmons at LSU or Kris Dunn at Providence, are going to be relied upon during games much more than Wiltjer. That allows them, especially Dunn, the opportunity for huge games. At the end of the year, Wiltjer should definitely be first-team All-American no matter what, but Player of the Year will be an uphill battle.
2) Kyle Dranginis will have the highest offensive rating on the team.
Pop quiz: Which Gonzaga player has the highest offensive rating in the past five years? If you answered Mike Hart -- you are correct. Granted, Mike Hart hardly took shots that season, but he did everything else necessary on the offensive end: crash the boards, pass the ball, hit free throws, and most importantly, rarely turned the ball over. That last point is the ticket to a high offensive rating.
Dranginis will be seeing minutes this season, possibly quite a few on the wing as well. Dranginis has been a smart player through his time at Gonzaga, and last season he was stellar in his overwhelmingly support-style role. This season, with the frontcourt being the powerhouse that it is, and the backcourt having the scoring potential that it does, Dranginis' role could very easily meld into something similar that Hart's was--all around glue guy. If Dranginis keeps his turnovers down, and keeps his shot selection smart, his o-rating of 122.5 from last season will only go up.
3) Gonzaga will not run the table on the WCC.
Here I come with some more down to Earth garbage viewpoints. Fact of the matter is that even though the Zags came ever so close last season to running the table, they didn't so in the convincing fashion that previous Gonzaga teams have done. The second fact of the matter is that running the table in the WCC is still really, really hard. The bulls-eye on Gonzaga's back can't actually get any larger, but teams throw out their very best effort each year, every year, when Gonzaga rolls into town.
Combine that with a BYU team that should be pretty good, a Saint Mary's squad who hates us more than should be humanely possible, and a veteran-laden Pepperdine squad, Gonzaga is looking ripe for a road upset this season. Don't be surprised if one, or even two or three, happen.
4) Gonzaga will make the Final Four.
This is a rather pointless argument to make, because picking anything about March Madness is near impossible when the NCAA Tournament has started, let alone with the season hasn't even started yet. But take a look at that preseason poll and notice one, clear-cut thing: there are five teams receiving first-place votes.
Last season, three teams were, and Kentucky got most of them. Season before, it was four teams, with Kentucky and Michigan State getting most of them. 2012-13, most of the first place votes went to Indiana. To make it into the Final Four, the road theoretically goes through a No. 1 seed, but this year, it is hard to even pick out who is an obvious No. 1 seed. Marcus Paige is already out for North Carolina and Dion Wiley went down for Maryland.
If Gonzaga stays healthy and plays basketball the way they should, they should find themselves either as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They will have the frontcourt to compete with each and every team out there, and by the end of the year, will have two very good young guards in Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, complemented by Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis.
Luck of the draw and the teams that play before you are just as important as how you play in the NCAA Tournament. But Gonzaga should have a ripe path for the first Final Four in school history when March 2016 rolls around.