Basketball starts today. All is good in the world. We’ve read endlessly about what will happen this season, but quite a few of those endless reads have been rather tepid takes. No one is ready to launch themselves off into the deep end, which is perfectly appropriate since none of us truly know what we are talking about at the moment. That said, isn’t the whole point of having a blog to take a stand that maybe you shouldn’t take?
So here we go. Here are some rather bold predictions for the Gonzaga Bulldogs this year, and how they will impact the rest of the WCC/college basketball.
Gonzaga will win the West Coast Conference
Honestly, it is kind of stupid that this is a actually a bold prediction. Pretty much every single human being that pays attention to college basketball outside of Spokane is saying this is the year that Saint Mary’s does it all. And you know what, Saint Mary’s is a good team. They did return most of their squad from a good team last year!
But what few people are pointing out in any of their analysis is the immense struggles Saint Mary’s has defending bigger guards. It was evident in all three of their losses to Gonzaga last season, and the fact of the matter remain the same for this season: Gonzaga’s guards are more athletic.
Sure, Jock Landale is a manchild. But Jock Landale is one person. The issue for Saint Mary’s in these games will be whether or not they can stop Gonzaga’s offense. Last season, they couldn’t. By the time the WCC rolls around, Gonzaga should have the team chemistry in lock step. How they will plan on defending Corey Kispert, Zach Norvell, Josh Perkins, and Silas Melson is a huge question mark, and the answer “well they return most of their team” doesn’t work. They lost their best perimeter defender in Dane Pineau and Cullen Neal is hardly a defensive upgrade over Joe Rahon, who struggled mightily against Gonzaga’s guards.
I don’t necessarily think that Gonzaga is going to crush Saint Mary’s in three games again. Last season, the Gaels were a great team, but they couldn’t match up against Gonzaga. Not much has changed since to demonstrate that things will be any better this season.
Zach Norvell will be the second leading scorer on the team
The major strength of the Bulldogs this season is the front court. We can expect a lot of the play to be sent down low to Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams. But we all know that Mark Few likes his inside-out game. So far in their careers, Silas Melson and Josh Perkins haven’t shown that they are generally comfortable taking over games. When the hand gets hot, they will throw up their fair share of shots, but both players do not operate in a score first mentality.
Norvell does, and he has the big body to back it up. If Perkins and Melson are assuming different roles on the team, you can expect Norvell to be the aggressive one on offense. Norvell went bonkers from beyond the line in the exhibition game, and that was after missing a majority of the first half with foul trouble. Remember, Norvell once scored 50+ points in high school.
Johnathan Williams III will be the WCC Player of the Year
This is probably the boldest prediction of all. Jock Landale will probably get it. Landale is a monster of the offensive end. He is savvy in the post and he generally gets what he want when close to the basket.
Williams is a much more dynamic talent. We got multiple glimpses of that last year, but he also was sharing time with Zach Collins, Przemek Karnowski and Killian Tillie. This year, it is his squad to lead down low, and we should see a huge increase in production across the board from Williams. Remember, Landale was already around 30 minutes last season—so unless he averages 37 minutes per game (not going to happen), his production levels should stay around where they are. In other words, Landale plateaued a bit last season. We haven’t seen Williams’ ceiling yet.
Gonzaga will finish the season with a top 10 ranked defense
This is probably the boldest of all the predictions, considering what the Zags lost last season. Nigel Williams-Goss was somehow an underrated perimeter defender, Zach Collins was an explosive and athletic force in the post, and Przemek Karnowski...well...he was Przemek Karnowski.
The seeds have been planted in the Gonzaga system for quite a few years now, and the realization of all that hard work finally paid off last season. Last season, the Zags didn’t force the most turnovers, they didn’t play the most press, and they didn’t get the most blocks. What they did was play an overall team defense that was suffocating. That was how they held opponents to the lowest eFG% in the country last season.
That feat requires the proper personnel, but it most of all requires coaching and team buy-in. The Zags had that last season, and they should have that this season. Williams is as athletic as a player as the Zags have had, and Tillie, although a slight step down from Collins, has shown promise with his defending. The defense won’t be as good as it was last season, but it should gel together as the season progresses.
Gonzaga will make the Elite Eight this year
Let’s save the biggest whopper for the last. Of course, predicting how far a team will go in the NCAA Tournament is the biggest fool’s errand. A run into the NCAA Tournament relies just as much on luck as it does as skill half the time. But the Zags are once again sitting in the spot they are most comfortable. Now that Gonzaga has made the championship, and considering what they lost from that team, it is easy to write the Zags off for an “off” year of sorts.
This squad is still incredibly talented, however. There are some exciting athletes on this squad, such as Killian Tillie, Rui Hachimura, and Zach Norvell, that we saw in limited to no time at all last season. Some integral parts of last season’s core are still here in Perkins, Melson, and Williams.
The defense will be the key here. If the defense is up to the task, the Zags will be a hard squad to deal with. They aren’t exactly playing position-less basketball, but each and every player on this squad (outside of Jacob Larsen), has the ability to slot into different positions. That is the sort of athleticism and flexibility that does wonders in March.