I’m sure you have already read this article. In case you haven’t, let me sum it up for you in one photo.
And just like that, the 2016-17 college hype train is on the way. Of course, the key thing to note is that the headline just says that Gonzaga "looks" like a national title contender. In easier to manage terms, that means that Gonzaga "looks" like they will probably make the Sweet 16, potentially the Elite Eight, and who knows—a run to the Final Four could be possible.
Could is the key word here, because as we all know in college basketball, trying to predict the winner of the NCAA Tournament before a single game has been played is often times a fool’s errand.
Chris Johnson’s article hits on all of the nice things, talking about having some backcourt pieces return, a potentially healthy Przemek Karnowski, and then the incoming recruits and transfers. Like always, this early in the season, when you look at Gonzaga on paper you are looking at a winning team.
But then again, if last year taught us anything, it is not to take any of this for granted. No one was expecting Karnowski to miss a majority of the season, but that happened. No one was expecting the guards to take as long to come together as they did, but that happened. At the end of the day, the Zags still did exactly what was needed to continue the NCAA Tournament streak, but they did just enough. College basketball is a fickle beast, and even titans like Gonzaga can have the wheels start to come off.
Before I go too far off the sludgy shallow end of busting expectations, we have to take note of what the Zags to have coming back. They have what more and more sounds like will be a healthy Karnowski anchoring the low post. They have five-star recruit Zach Collins there to help him out when he needs a break. They have Johnathan Williams III, who is a monster on the glass and should help fill that void that Domantas Sabonis left behind. They have Nigel Williams-Goss, who was one of the better point guards at creating offense while he was at Washington. They have one year of Jordan Mathews, who has shot 43.2 percent from beyond the arc over his college career.
They also have what appears to be a capable scorer in Zack Norvell, and another impressive dose of international flavor in Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie, and Jacob Larsen. Sometimes in this cruel, cruel world, the rich just get richer, and that is exactly what Gonzaga did for this upcoming season.
Hold on a second there, I almost let myself go too far into the land of rainbows, unicorns, and the days when The Bulldog still existed. Gonzaga will not just waltz through the WCC. There is a very real chance that they do not even win it outright this year, let alone tie it with someone else. Saint Mary’s, a team that beat Gonzaga twice in conference play last season, is returning literally everyone. And you know that after Gonzaga slammed the door on their NCAA Tournament dreams in the WCC Tournament, Saint Mary’s will be out for blood this year. BYU is loading up the way BYU loads up—returning players from LDS missions. Kyle Collinsworth might be gone, but TJ Haws (Tyler Haws younger and reportedly better brother) and Eric Mika are coming back to join a team that still includes Kyle Davis and Nick Emery. BYU most likely isn’t going to win the WCC, but they have all the tools to play a dark horse and spoiler in any and all contests.
Ok ok ok. Things aren’t all doom and gloom. Gonzaga still should be a better team than both of those squads, but we also might be looking at a rare year of multiple WCC teams in the NCAA Tournament, and that is always fun. But seriously, does anyone know how this roster is actually going to shake out? Mark Few has a ton of players at his disposal and not enough minutes to go around for them. He didn’t have to worry about roster management last year because the roster was minimal. This year, Mark Few’s in game management is going to be on display.
In fact, all of the coaching staff is going to be on display. Gonzaga players have vocally, year in and year out, described how great the Gonzaga community is, and also how great the team chemistry is. This season, the Zags are bringing in a lot of new players from all over the world. They are going to compete for minutes with transfers that came to Gonzaga to win, but also to play. They are all going to compete with players that have been on the team for a few years. Egos are a real thing, and that will be something to watch as the season progresses. If the coaching staff does it right, these guys are hanging out and Rem is making his trash can nachos for them each night.
All of this internal back and forth just goes to show that expectations for this Gonzaga squad don’t mean too much at this point. This is a team with a lot of upside, but it is also a team that has a lot of meshing to do with one another. The WCC won’t provide an easy coast into the NCAA Tournament this year, so the Zags will have to make sure to secure those ever important non-conference wins in case an at-large bid is how this all ends up.
There is a lot to get excited for, and it is too bad that college football has to get out of the way first.