Alright gang, admit it. We are all excited about this season. Last season, the Zags opened up as the No. 9 team, with “the best frontcourt in the nation” casually thrown about in conversations at the bar like it was no big deal.
Then things went downhill. Everything that could seemingly go wrong did pretty much go wrong. The backcourt struggled to replace Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. Przemek Karnowski went down with a season-ending back injury. A team that had limited options suddenly had no options. They were swept by Saint Mary’s for the first time in forever. They stepped into the WCC Tournament looking DOA.
But then March kicked in, and the Zags that we know and love kicked in. They ran the WCC Tournament to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament and keep the streak alive and well. They made a surprising run into the Sweet 16. Domantas Sabonis declared for the draft. Kyle Wiltjer landed himself on the Houston Rockets.
So here we are: on the precipice of the 2016-17 season. There are a lot of questions floating around this team, but also a lot of excitement floating around this team. Here are a few of the things we here on the staff are looking most forward to.
Peter Woodburn is looking forward to:
It is a rare instance that the Zags are able to stack up on paper in pretty much every position, but that is the case this year. They have bonafide Power-5 quality guards in Nigel Williams-Goss and Jordan Mathews. Johnathan Williams III is a workhorse forward that harkens back to the old days of Casey Calvary and Cory Violette. The Josh Perkins issue puts a slight damper on the backcourt, but there are plenty of exciting options to fill the void, especially the sharpshooting of Zack Norvell.
And then there are all those freshman. Seriously, take a look at all of them. The Zags have never had a recruiting class rated this high, and that is what is most exciting for me. It isn’t necessarily what they will accomplish this season, but what they have laid the groundwork to accomplish next season, and the season after that. The age-old standard is that good teams reload, and the Zags have traditionally done that. But this time around, they have done it like a big-time program. The future has never looked more bright, and that is one of the most exciting feelings to be had.
Oh yeah, and the fact that Przemek Karnowski will don a Gonzaga jersey for one more year. Can we seriously have a better story to rally around? I don’t think so.
Agedude is looking forward to:
Athletes, elite athletes at every position, on the floor and on the bench. Inevitably, every year when GU lost to Memphis, Michigan St, Syracuse, Arizona, Duke, et al. the post-game discussion centered on coaching issues causing the inability to win against the big boys. I always thought the Zags simply didn’t have enough horses. They couldn’t match up physically and athletically with the elite schools. Four years ago Gonzaga had Hart starting with Stockton as the first player off the bench. Two undersized walk-ons in the top 6 players and they were good enough to earn a #1 national ranking. The next year 5’11” Stockton started alongside the 6’2” Bell and Pangos, all wearing three pair of socks when those heights were measured. Not this year basketball fans, little Gonzaga has some very big boys, long and athletic big boys.
I’m looking forward to watching St. Mary’s high pick and roll stopped dead at the top of the key. An opponent’s 6’ 9” 260lb center trying to back down against Karno bouncing back like a yo-yo at the end of its string. Opponent’s shots in the lane being swatted by weak side help and a couple of their three-pointers being blocked without a foul (asking too much now). No more blown leads late in the 2 nd half because a Pangos or Wiltjer or Sabonis has to average 38 minutes per game. Above all, I want to see the look on Eric Mika’s face after 10 minutes of banging hard against JWIII realizing he now has to shoot over Collins.
Mark Few must feel like Happy Gilmore learning to putt or the Joker getting access to Batman’s toys, I look forward to see what he does with them.
Kyle Parmley is looking forward to:
Mark Few's program at Gonzaga has been remarkable in the fact that there haven't been many down years in his tenure. Even the greatest coaches seem to have years where their teams barely squeak into the NCAA Tournament or settle for the NIT in the year or two after an experienced core graduates. The Zags are in that position this year, but Few has proven to be one of the best at reloading the roster with talent and getting it to play a hight level each season.
I'm excited to see what Josh Perkins can do running the show now from the point guard position. Can Perkins and Przemek Karnowski form a dynamic 1-2 punch after both returning from injury? I'm also interested to see if Silas Melson begins to put it together for a full season and become a leader on this team.
This Gonzaga team has an abundance of talent -- including some transfers and true freshmen -- that fans may not be familiar with. But Few's track record shows that he has the ability to make it all mesh into one pretty good team.
Keith Ybanez is looking forward to:
Matchup versatility. The 2016-2017 edition of the Gonzaga Bulldogs features a deep and balanced team that will be able to play just about any style of basketball. The roster is stocked with versatile and diverse player profiles that allows Mark Few to be as creative as he wants when putting together a game plan.
Gonzaga’s system and core offensive and defensive principles will of course remain in place, but Few will enjoy the rare flexibility to adjust matchups at every position in order to give the Bulldogs an advantage and fully exploit an opponent’s weaknesses on a game to game basis.
Gonzaga will be able to speed up the pace and overwhelm teams with a small-ball lineup that features a plethora of skilled guards along with agile and skilled bigs in Johnathan Williams and Zach Collins; or, overpower teams with Przemek Karnowski inside flanked by shooters and slashers on the perimeter. Opponents will have a tough time preparing for this team. From a pure basketball standpoint, Gonzaga’s style of play will be beautiful and I look forward to watching it.