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Weekly Zag Briefing

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Season previews galore and lots of speculative rankings make up the season’s first briefing session.

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-West Regional-Gonzaga vs Xavier Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Hello Friends,

The return of hoops means the return of the Weekly Zag Briefing. As always, we’ll do our best to find all the articles, columns, rankings, etc. relevant to our beloved Zags that are written beyond the digital corners of our space here at The Slipper Still Fits (but read our stuff first).

Just a heads up, this briefing came on a Thursday to wait for some additional previews to be published, but they will post on Wednesdays for the remainder of the season.

  • The mothership released its comprehensive season preview which can be broken down as follows: Top 100 players in the country where our very own Johnathan Williams comes in at #50 while Rui Hachimura fell into the “Just Missed” category; Top 25 teams wherein SMC is incorrectly ranked above Gonzaga; and 11 predictions for the season that includes SMC knocking off Gonzaga for the WCC crown.
  • The Spokesman-Review published a great basketball preview which you can find here, and John Blanchette wrote a nice piece on Gonzaga’s recruiting approach.
  • NCAA.com previews the WCC and names SMC the best team in the conference, BYU as its “sleeper,” and Corey Kispert as the best freshman.
  • Jay Bilas wrote quite the opus to preview the season. There is A LOT in there about NCAA reforms he’d like to see happen with respect to how Division I basketball is operated and how amateurism is treated. Bilas also includes a lot of lists, and notably for Gonzaga fans he names Mark Few as one of his 10 coaching savants to draw up a final/winning play and also one of the best coaches with whom to have a postgame adult beverage. Silas Melson is named as one the 30 best “in-your-grill” defenders, and Adam Morrison’s 43 point explosion against Michigan State in the 2005 Maui Invitational remains the best individual performance he has seen in a single game.
  • ESPN Insider (subscription required) lists Rui Hachimura as a Top 10 PF prospect for the 2018 NBA Draft that included the blurb provided below. I think Rui’s best position at the pro level will be at SF, but this is another example of his draft hype entering the year.

Hachimura, the most touted Japanese prospect of all time, is likely on his way to eventually becoming the first Japanese-born athlete to play in the NBA since Yuta Tabuse. Hachimura, whose mother is from Japan and father is from West Africa, made a name for himself at the 2014 under-17 World Championships as a 16-year-old, leading the tournament in scoring. He made his U.S. debut at the Jordan Brand International game in April 2015 and eventually signed with Gonzaga, becoming only the fifth Japanese-born male to play Division 1 college basketball.

The 6-foot-8, 225-pound combo forward followed up a slow freshman season with a huge summer, leading Japan to a 3-4 record at the Under-19 World Championships, while averaging 20.6 points and 11.0 rebounds per game and shooting 32 percent from 3. From a physical perspective, Hachimura looks like an NBA forward with a strong frame, a reported 7-foot-1 wingspan and good athleticism in space. He continues to make strides as a shooter, is a powerful driver and has the tools to be a versatile defender, although he's lacking in the instincts and timing department at this stage. While his feel for the game and polish need work, the 19-year-old could have a big year in Spokane, Washington, on a new-look Gonzaga team.

Williams will be the Bulldogs' go-to guy, and stats along the lines of 15 points, nine rebounds and two blocks per game shouldn't surprise anyone. He's also working on coming out of his shell and becoming more comfortable in settings such as a media day. But it's the senior's stellar defense that stands out to Few. “I actually think he is the best defensive player in the country,” Few said. “I think he showed that in the tournament last year. We could switch him 1 through 5, and I kept telling the staff a lot of times last year I think he's our best perimeter defender. When we had to have a stop and we knew that guard was going to make a play to shoot the ball, I'd rather have J3 on him than a guard.”

  • Jeff Eisenberg over at Yahoo ranked the Top 12 conferences in D1 and placed the WCC at #9.
  • NBC Sports lists the 68 Things It Can’t Wait to See during the college basketball season. At #10: “Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura. You’ll understand why soon enough.”
  • Joe Lunardi previewed the WCC where he goes with the “haves and have-nots” theme that seems to always came hand-in-hand with WCC previews. Lunardi names Jock Landale as the player that will own the league (fair) and Zach Norvell as the freshman to watch (also fair).
  • Will Maupin wrote about the Zags gearing up for their encore to last season’s national championship run.