The Gonzaga Bulldogs are probably going to open the season as a top-three school in the nation. They very well could be the preseason No. 1 team for the second-straight season.
As exciting as that sounds, much like last year’s team, this season’s arrives with quite a few question marks. Most of those question marks will turn into exclamation marks rather quickly. However, considering that four
five of the seven players the Zags routinely trotted out each game are no longer wearing Gonzaga uniforms, there are a lot of legitimate questions about how the minutes will get dispersed.
The Zags have a lot of dudes, returning dudes waiting for their time, dudes who transferred in, and some highly regarded freshman dudes. And out of all those dudes, there are only 200 minutes to go around.
Now, for starters, and because this just needs to get directly put out there because for some reason the new tag line around here is “seven-man rotation:” MARK FEW DOES NOT STICK TO ONLY A SEVEN MAN ROTATION AS A HEAD COACH AT GONZAGA.
Repeat after me: MARK FEW USES MORE THAN SEVEN PLAYERS AND THERE ARE PLENTY OF EXAMPLES OF THAT LITERALLY WITHIN THE LAST DECADE.
We don’t even have to look back very far. Within the past five years, Mark Few has run out an eight-man rotation three times (I’m including 2019 in that mix because that was the obvious intention until Anton Watson was injured). Since 2013, Mark Few has employed a lineup in which eight (or more) players get 10 (or more) minutes six out of nine years.
The fact of the matter is that when the Zags have the dudes they need, in the positions they need, with the experience they need, the coaching staff utilizes them.
Alright, now that we have that out of the way, here is the meat of the post and everything you can yell at me about and tell me how wrong I am in the comments below.
C - Drew Timme: 30 mpg
Timme averaged 28.2 minutes per game and he was one of the most effective scorers on the floor last season. With the departures of Oumar Ballo and Pavel Zakharov, the Zags’ frontcourt is talented, but a bit thin on experience. I highly expect Timme to end up playing roughly the same that he played last season, and I just rounded up because clean numbers make for easier math.
PF - Chet Holmgren: 27 mpg
I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see this be 25 minutes per game. Either way, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2021 is obviously going to be starting and he is going to be getting his minutes. Thanks to his mobility as a big man, he will also have the ability to operate more like a Kyle Wiltjer or Killian Tillie, helping spread the floor so Timme can do his damage down low.
SF - Julian Strawther: 20 mpg
This is the member of the starters I have the least faith in, and I could easily see this as a multitude of different players on the squad. Strawther has a unique length over some of the other players on the squad, and he seemed to be the member of the bench who got those important “first half” minutes occasionally. That said, it really depends on what the staff sees from all the guys during the summer and fall. This could easily be four or five other players—to a certain extent, hence the excitement about next year’s squad.
SG - Hunter Sallis: 23 mpg
All we know is that Hunter Sallis will start. However, if Strawther is not the starting winger, I could easily see Few sliding Sallis over to that spot and going with a different guard here. Either way, with a glut of guards capable of manning the two and three spots, these are the positions that will see the minutes squeeze. For my money, I’m putting Sallis in the 20ish minutes per game and I think we will see him for more than one year as a Zag.
PG - Andrew Nembhard: 30 mpg
There are few locks in this useless exercise, but here is one of ‘em. Nembhard averaged 29.9 mpg last season, and he will hold onto that mark, if not get a few more, as one of the best point guards in college basketball. Unlike some previous point guards of the past, Nembhard has some support on the bench, however, which is what leads me to believe he will stick around his 30-minute mark.
Anton Watson: 20 mpg
I’ve seen some lineups that people have thrown out there with a starting frontcourt trio of Timme at center, Watson at PF, and Holmgren on the wing. Nobody is right at the moment, but I really don’t see that happening considering that: A) If that is the case, your first frontcourt backup is either Ben Gregg or Kaden Perry; and B) Watson starting causes a chain reaction of minute distribution that probably results in a 10-man rotation and I just don’t see that happening.
The versatility of Holmgren’s defensive rim protection means that Watson can basically slot in for either player when one needs a breather, and I’d assume we will see virtually all of the center and power forward minutes eaten up by some combination of Timme, Holmgren, and Watson.
Rasir Bolton: 20 mpg
Up where I said I wasn’t that solid about Strawther starting, there is an easy world to glimpse with Sallis at the wing and Bolton at the two spot. He is a veteran guard with an eye for scoring, and he will provide a bit of experience in a backcourt that doesn’t have a lot of it. That said, Bolton will also most likely need to apply and receive a waiver to play next season because he has already transferred (and received an exemption) once before. All signs are pointing to this not being an issue, but hey, the NCAA is known for doing dumb things.
Dominick Harris: 20 mpg
Again, up where I said I wasn’t that solid about Strawther starting, I can also easily see a world in which Sallis is at the wing and Harris is your starting two guard. I think the final starting spot will be a battle between Bolton, Strawther, and Harris, and it will be an interesting one because each player provides a little different style of play. Regardless of which of the three earns the starting spot, I’d imagine we will see each player getting roughly 15-20 minutes per game.
Nolan Hickman Jr.: 10 mpg
There has been a lot of excitement as of late in the Twittersphere about Hickman’s work at the Iverson Classic, so it might seem weird to have such few minutes for an incoming recruit who is listed as a low five-/high four-star player. In case the title didn’t give it away, I’m hardly certain of a lot of these things. With that, we can throw Hickman’s role into the same bucket as Strawther, Harris, and to a certain extent, Sallis. Each of these guys are going to get minutes, and when they do, they will siphon minutes from each other. That said, Hickman is the PG in waiting after Nembhard this season. My guess is that he will play more than 10 minutes per game, but we are already 1,200 words in and I needed the math to work out easily.
To be clear, we are talking about the main rotation here. That doesn’t mean we won’t see the likes of Martynas Arlauskas, Kaden Perry, or Ben Gregg next year, but I don’t think either of those players will garner consistent meaningful minutes barring an injury/event that forces a shakeup.
Part of that reasoning is that already, according to my rotation, Mark Few is at nine players, which is quite a lot for not only Mark Few but for most college basketball teams. That is a rarity for Mark Few and the Zags. The last time the rotation ran this deep was the 2012-13 team, and that was largely because Mike Hart, one of the starters, averaged only 16.9 minutes per game. Ten players averaged at least 10 minutes per game that year, with Drew Barham bringing up the 11th rear at 8.3 minutes.
As a consolation to the “seven-man rotation” crowd, it is true, Mark Few is no Leonard Hamilton, who considers a nine-man squad a short rotation. That said, with all of the talent that exists here, I’m not sure how Mark Few can maneuver around it. Rasir Bolton didn’t transfer to Gonzaga to redshirt for a year (unless the NCAA forces him to). Same with Sallis and Hickman. Recruits, specifically guards, who are that highly rated will go to a place in which they can contribute from the ground floor, not sit a year to work on their skills and conditioning.
Of course, this is all just my opinion, based on nothing but my opinion. Got yours? Leave it in the comments article below. We are at that slow time of Gonzaga-related news in which the only way it comes to is by making it.