In just a couple of days, the roar of The Kennel will reach a fever pitch. The referee will toss the ball in the air. Przemek Karnowski will make a play for it. Just like that, the 2016-17 season for the Gonzaga Bulldogs will be underway.
There are a lot of question marks, however. So let’s take a look at some of the key story lines of this season.
Will chemistry be an issue?
The Zags have as many new faces as they have returning faces. We’ve already talked about that a little bit, but it is also something to watch going forward. The big question is how will Mark Few and the rest of the coaching staff be able to distribute the minutes that will keep a lot of good players happy? Most coaches would kill for this issue, but this is also an issue that Mark Few hasn’t really had before.
The players are fantastic, that much is for sure, but it takes time to have them all mesh together. Nigel Williams-Goss didn’t practice for too much last season because of injury. Przemek Karnowski obviously didn’t practice either. Zach Collins, Killian Tillie, Zach Collins, Rui Hachimura, Zach Norvell and Jordan Mathews weren’t even here last season. That is a lot of faces that will need to figure out communication and how to work best on the court.
Do the Zags finally break into the Final Four this year?
There are a few things working for the Zags in this regard: a good non-conference schedule, and a good WCC (at least up top). If the Zags take care of business in the non-conference, they will finally be able to add top-50 wins in the WCC for the first time in almost forever. Saint Mary’s and BYU are both good teams, and the Zags have the ability to make a good case come tournament time. Of course, it is Gonzaga, so every loss gets magnified on the tournament seeding line, but if this team enters March with maybe two or three losses, there is a good chance they will get a rather high seed.
And for the first time in forever, the Zags actually seem to have the keys to make a deep run in the tournament. Their guards are big and athletic. They have outside shooters. They have interior defenders. The bench is deep. It gets tiring saying, this might be the year the Zags do it, but realistically, this is the best chance the Zags have had. That also requires everything to go right.
Is the WCC finally making a turn for the better?
The streak of West Coast Conference regular season titles is mercifully over, because swallowing that pill was hard to take. It also might be harder to take in the years to come. For the first time in a while, Saint Mary’s is turning into a consistent and legitimate threat. This is only a good thing.
For all the talk of the Zags moving out of the WCC, none of the arguments make any sense when rooted in things like logistics and reason. Conference realignment is tricky business (just ask BYU), and the fact of the matter is that once you head east of the Rockies, it is a long way until reaching your next basketball-only conference. Fact of the matter is that no other conference is going to accept the Zags without a football team, and the Zags are not going to have a football team.
So for now, we are in the WCC, and our best hope is to make the best of it. Gonzaga has done its job in recent years, and after Mark Few put the rest of conference on blast, other schools seem to have responded.
Then there is Saint Mary’s. Sure, Randy Bennett scheduled another non-conference slate that is less lacing up your shoes and more just applying the velcro straps, but Saint Mary’s is really good. Hopefully, just hopefully, Saint Mary’s will also start to realize that they can help their own cause by showcasing to the rest of the nation they can be good teams in November as well.
Those are a few of my storylines. Any that are missed? Throw them in the comments below.