With official practices underway we're now just over a month before basketball games begin. After winning both the regular season and tournament titles in the WCC, Gonzaga will attempt to make it back to back trips to the NCAA tournament.
The team does lose two starters from last season, but has veterans already in place to fill their roles. Because of the divide between the experienced players coming back and the young newcomers, the starting five is all but set. This lineup may not be as big as last year's, but will be more balanced in terms of shooting ability.
The "1" JR Laura Stockton
One of the leaders of the team, Stockton continues to improve each season. She already had the vision like her hall of fame father, but the shooting has gotten better and better. An underrated part of her game is her ability to create her own shot, something she'll have to do more this year. As the primary playmaker, she'll need to get teammates shots that they may not be able to get on their own.
The "2" SR Emma Stach
The top guard defender on the team, she's the prototypical "3 and D" player who can spread the floor with her perimeter shooting. She averaged only a few points per game, and her offense is rather limited, but the defense is top notch and giving her around five three point attempts a game will be beneficial for the team overall.
The "3" JR Chandler Smith
The Nebraska transfer played a limited role last year off the bench, mainly because she didn't have a special role to be on the court. She's not the defender like Stach, the distributor like Stockton or the size and slashing ability like now graduated Elle Tinkle.
That's not to say she isn't any good. She can do all of those things at an above average level, and has good size to play the three. The junior will be the Swiss army knife, playing multiple positions all season. If her perimeter shooting improves, she'll fill up the stat sheet this year.
The "4" JR Jill Barta
Not only the best player on the team, but one of the top players in the whole league. The game plan offensively will center around Barta and every half court offense should involve her every time. Towards the end of the season she displayed her ability to stretch the floor, an added element in her game.
She averaged around 17 last season as a sophomore and might be the purest scorer since Keani Albanez a few years ago. She took Gonzaga to their last sweet sixteen appearance, something Barta plans to match and then some.
The "5"SR Emma Wolframm
The only spot where there may be a discussion as to who starts may come from the center position. With Kiara Kudron gone, it comes down to Wolframm and Zykera Rice, both who played 15 minutes or less last year. Both have similar games, being post players but Rice has the higher ceiling thanks to her athleticism and mid range game.
Ultimately though Wolframm gets the nod for one reason; she's 6'5 to Rice's 6'1. Now you question why height, and not talent is the determining factor but it's about the overall rotation. Rice can play both the four and the five, and can sub for either starter in case of injury or foul trouble. If it can be helped, the more versatile players tend to come off the bench for the coach to make the best adjustments during games. Still expect Rice to get plenty of minutes.
As you can see this lineup is filled with upperclassmen, as most coaches tend to lean on experience to start the year. However, Gonzaga brings in one of the program's best recruiting classes ever. As of right now, they'll come off the bench. But Coach Fortier won't hesitate to start any of them if they become a star in their freshman year.
Stockton and Barta are guaranteed to start no matter what, but the other three spots are somewhat vulnerable to competition. And for the sake of the team, there should be competition because that helps the Bulldogs depth for the whole season.
The starting five has the shooting, defense and overall balance to complement each other. Now it's just about putting it all together. They have about a month to do so.