Zach Collins was the first rock to get rolling. With him followed Nigel Williams-Goss, and to a certain degree, Johnathan Williams. After that, two more scholarships left the Gonzaga Bulldogs, with Bryan Alberts declaring his intent to transfer and Ryan Edwards leaving the game. None of this even takes into account Jordan Mathews and Przemek Karnowski graduating.
All this goes to say, the Gonzaga Bulldogs, talented as they may be, have some serious production to make up with all the players they are (might be) losing.
To a certain extent, the Zags have been here before. Everyone was reeling after the 2012-13 season when the entire front court of Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris stopped wearing the Zags’ jersey. No one could imagine a world without Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. after the 2014-15 season, and yet, the 2015-16 season did in fact happen.
But for the first time in recent school history, Mark Few and the coaching staff are really going to have to make magic work to come up with the two-pronged attack the departures have left on this team. Generally speaking, it has either been one part of the team, or the other—not both the back and the front court.
Indeed, this is the second consecutive year the Zags have had some serious production to replace, as the following table shows (please note: the losing amounts only came from consistently productive players, not departing bench players).
The Zags have experienced turnover before, but not necessarily on a level like this. In an odd way, the Zags are even more ready to weather this storm than they have ever been. That is because despite the turnover, the Zags are still a rather balanced squad. They are by no means the 2016-17 squad, but the team (on paper) is still a NCAA Tournament worthy squad.
For the sake of the likelihood he does return, let’s just assume Johnathan Williams is back in the mold next season. That leaves Gonzaga with the following key players from this year’s squad: Williams, Silas Melson, Josh Perkins, and Killian Tillie. Add in Rui Hachimura, Zach Norvell Jr., Jacob Larsen, and Jeremy Jones into the mix, and you have a heart of a squad that has worked on chemistry all year.
The Zags, as of now, have two incoming faces: Corey Kispert and Jesse Wade—two players who should be ready to be instant contributors as freshmen. Perhaps the Zags pick up a grad transfer or two, but otherwise, the majority of the squad has spent time being Gonzaga Bulldogs together.
This was not the case at the start of this season. One thing next year’s team will not have to deal with is the question of chemistry issues. Chemistry, the important number that can never be quantified, is ingrained in what it means to be a Zag. Most of the players returning to the program know this.
Gonzaga probably won’t be in the Final Four next season. They will probably lose more games than they did this season. But they also aren’t in jeopardy of falling off the cliff like some people make it out to be. The Zags have been in this position before, and the coaching staff and players have always come out on top. There is no reason to think any differently this time around.