The Gonzaga Bulldogs’ 2017-18 season finally is here (almost). The Zags take the court on Saturday with an exhibition game against the College of Idaho, and it will be our first glimpse at this new look team since the peak of the program run last season.
As always, not everything is set in stone for the Bulldogs. Gonzaga lost a lot of production from last season, and there are a lot of new faces to fit into the mix. Here are some of the big questions we hope to get answered as the season starts.
Who is going to be the starting winger?
For the first time in a long while, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have a player that truly can be a winger. Not only that, they have players, and because of that, we don’t have any idea who is starting at the three-spot.
The easy pick would be giving the starting nod to Rui Hachimura, the absolutely electric (in theory) sophomore forward who has shown an equal level of shooting prowess with a jaw-dropping athleticism. Hachimura had a great run at the U-19 World Championships this summer with Team Japan, but there are still questions about his readiness level. Hachimura will definitely be relied upon for meaningful minutes this season, but the question is whether or not he starts.
There is also Zach Norvell Jr., who after taking a year off from redshirting, is seemingly ready to throw himself into the mix this season. Norvell is a high-level scorer and a big guard from Chicago, who has proven in high school that he can go up against the best of the competition.
Then there is 6’6 freshman forward Corey Kispert. Kispert is probably the least likely to get a starting nod, but expect for him to get some good minutes.
Who is going to be the starting center?
For the first time in a long while, Przemek Karnowski will not be the starting center for the Gonzaga Bulldogs. All eyes on this position will land on Johnathan Williams, who at 6’9 and 228 pounds is more than capable of holding his own down low. Williams is a dynamic talent who is able to pound it low in the post but also step back for some shots. On the defensive end, he is probably the top defender on the team, more than capable of guarding multiple positions.
The only issue is Mark Few has always loved his tradition inside/out game, and although Williams will most likely excel in that, it isn’t the forward’s traditional wheelhouse. Jacob Larsen, the 6’11 center from Denmark, fits that mold much easier, but he is coming off of a knee injury that sidelined his entire 2016-17 season. Whether or not Larsen is in full playing shape will determine how much time we see Williams holding down the five-spot.
Who will be the main backup for Josh Perkins?
Last season, the Zags had the ability to run a two point-guard lineup for a 99.9 percent of all minutes played with Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins. Now that NWG has left for greener pastures, the reliance will be on Perkins to be the primary ball-handler for Gonzaga.
The Zags have some backups, but both are pretty young. Jesse Wade has finally arrived on campus after completing his mission, and Joel Ayayi is as good as they come (but needing a whole lot of seasoning). The Zags have plenty of other guards, but Silas Melson and Norvell haven’t traditionally played as primary ball handlers. If Perkins gets into foul trouble, or has some rough games, the Zags are going to get rather young at the point.
What is the ceiling for this team?
The Zags are just a few months away from making both their first Final Four and their first national championship appearance in school history. But folks, let me remind you, it isn’t that easy to do such things.
Last year’s team finished ranked No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s overall rankings, with the top ranked defense in the nation. Last year’s team graduated one of the key cogs of that championship squad in Karnowski, and lost the two best players on the team in NWG and Zach Collins to the NBA draft.
The 2017-18 Gonzaga Bulldogs are by no means slouches. There is a talent bursting out of the seams here, but it is also some talent that needs to be realized first. The Zags are primed with a solid non-conference schedule and a theoretically better than usual at the top WCC slate. But it takes just as much skill as it does grit and luck to continue to advance in the NCAA Tournament. Just think — if Jordan Mathews hadn’t hit this shot, would we even be talking about a Final Four yet?
In short, there is a lot of talent on this team, but how it will all come together is what is hard to predict.
Is Gonzaga the best team in the West Coast Conference this year?
Of course they are. Until Saint Mary’s proves us otherwise, the title always rolls through Spokane.