One of the main reasons the Gonzaga Bulldogs made the NCAA championships is through the strength of the front court, specifically Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins. Neither of those players will be with the squad next year.
Karnowski is graduating, and Collins has declared for the 2017 NBA Draft. On any other team, this would be quite the hole to fill. For the Gonzaga Bulldogs, they might not be able to fill it as high, but they still have the personnel to make it work, albeit, in a slightly different format.
Much of what we can expect to see next season depends on the progression of Jacob Larsen. He was probably the least well-known of the three foreign imports in the 2016 recruiting class, and that was doubled down after he sat out all of last season with a knee injury.
How the Zags will look next season depends much on the progression of Larsen. Johnathan Williams III and Killian Tillie are proven contributors, each one offering their own unique skill set that can stretch the defense. The issue, however, is that neither of the two players are a traditional center, and both are more comfortable operating as a power forward.
Larsen, on the other hand, has the size, and reportedly also has the muscle. Despite a knee injury, he has supposedly added 20 pounds of muscle last season as he works through the Olynyk Clinic for Long Term Success. As if he is preparing for his role as the protector of the rim, Larsen also supposedly walks around q uoting Arnold Scharzenegger.
The front court next season will by no means be as strong as it was this season, you can’t just lose two players of Karnowski’s and Collin’s caliber and make that claim. But the Zags are in the position they are always in: they never re-stock, they always reload.
If you throw in the potential of Rui Hachimura spotting some time at the four or three spot, or even seeing Zach Norvell at the three spot, the Bulldogs are going to be an entertaining team to watch. They will be able to run with the best of them, but will still play the trademark half-court offense head coach Mark Few loves so dearly.
The biggest hole the Zags will have to fill will be on the defensive end. Gonzaga ended the season as Ken Pomeroy’s No. 1 ranked defense. Without Karnowski and Collins on the squad next season, there is no way the Zags will be able to replicate that. Williams is a dynamic defender, and Tillie also has some good length, but Karnowski altered shots without doing a single thing. Collins was the second best shot-blocker per game the Zags have ever seen (and if he played more minutes, he would’ve been the best).
In short, the end of the world isn’t coming. This will be the second-consecutive year the Zags are losing their entire front court, and the coaching staff was able to prepare correctly. There isn’t anything to suggest things will be different now.