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Distributing the front court minutes next season

Mark Few has three legitimate starting players for two positions, and this isn't a bad thing at all.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The season might be over for the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the reign of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell coming to a close, but one thing that spells a very bright future for the Zags next season is the front court, which as it stands now, could very well be one of the best, if not the best, in the nation next season.

The best frontcourt in the nation? That definitely sounds pretty hyperbolic. But figure these stats for the Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis on this year.

(per game) Minutes Points eFG% Rebounds Block ORtg
Przemek Karnowski 24.5 10.9 62.3 5.8 1.0 113.9
Domantas Sabonis 21.7 9.7 66.8 7.1 0.3 123.9
Kyle Wiltjer 27.6 16.8 61.6 6.2 0.7 131.6

Between the forward and center positions, those three guys accounted for 92.25 percent of the 80 possible minutes each game at those positions. After that, it was a mixture of players making some spot appearances. Next season, Ryan Edwards is joining the mix, after spending a season off with a redshirt. If Edwards makes a big improvement, which is starting to become the expectation of the norm, that makes for a lot of players to take up not many minutes.

How Mark Few is able to figure out how to deal with this is why Gonzaga pays him gobs of money to be their basketball coach. Some comments have mentioned the idea of throwing out all three players to start the game, and who knows, maybe that will become a reality. But realistically, the idea of Wiltjer as your winger, as fun as it sounds offensively, would be such a nightmare defensively that teams would have the instant crack in the Gonzaga armor without having to even read a scouting report.

The minutes issue is a tough thing to work around. Sabonis and Karnowski worked quite well together on the floor, as evidenced by the drool inducing passes during the UCLA game. Sabonis, for what it is worth, did enough to demonstrate that he should be a starter on pretty much any other college team.


Any other college team doesn't have Wiltjer or Karnowski on it, however. This year, Wiltjer was the ultimate X-factor in stretching opposing defenses, and it was important for Gonzaga to establish that ability early. Domas, with his soft footwork, aggressiveness towards the hoop, frightening levels of intensity and propensity for fouls, was much better suited as a the first man off the bench.

Let's talk about those dumb, emotional fouls. Sabonis probably would've warranted more minutes this year if he didn't limit himself so often by foul trouble. He had four or five fouls eight times this season. If he is able to mature and stay on the floor more consistently, perhaps that 92.25 percent of minutes goes up to 95 percent of minutes. That leaves Edward at just four minutes per game.

That right there isn't necessarily a bad thing. The hype of the "Olynyk Clinic" is growing after Kyle Wiltjer came out guns a blazing, but then let's also pause right there. Wiltjer is a McDonald's All-American, NCAA championship player and a SEC Sixth Man of the Year. He had a lot of pedigree coming into the Gonzaga system and displayed it in his very first game. Kelly Olynyk's jump from lanky forward to first-round draft pick was jaw dropping to watch, but to also assume it'll happen each and every time stretches it a bit (absolutely no offense to Edwards). The point being, maybe we temper expectations on the impact that Edwards will have until we actually see him in a game.

The second part of that is that a lot of times college is a waiting game. Just look at Sam Dower. Dower went from a few minutes his freshman year, to more minutes his sophomore year, to less minutes his junior year, to the focal point of the offense his senior year. Edwards is a sophomore next season. Karnowski and Wiltjer will be seniors. For Edwards, next season isn't necessarily the one he should be looking at. It will be the following season.

So is there a problem with the minutes? Not really. The Gonzaga Bulldogs will essentially have 80 minutes to distribute between three starters, and there will be Edwards on the side to fill in when needed. Gut feeling says Edwards will probably play more than five minutes per game, but his play most likely won't be too many minutes each night, depending on circumstances. Again, too much of a good thing isn't a bad thing.