The narrative in the coming days on the Gonzaga Bulldogs from the national media will talk about the ending of an era, and that is fair. Drew Timme, the Zags’ all-time leading scorer is done with college.
But that doesn’t mean the Zags’ era of success, five trips to the Elite Eight since 2017, two Final Fours, two national championship appearances, and eight-consecutive Sweet 16s is over. Not by any stretch. We’ve all been here before, talked about how it feels like the championship window is closing, and been surprised by what came next.
Remember how it felt post 2017? The Zags entered the following season without the likes of Jordan Mathews, Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski, and Zach Collins. The 2018 Zags made a Sweet 16 appearance that might’ve been a deeper run if not for a Killian Tillie injury right before game time.
In the 2019-20 season, the Zags returned just 23.4 percent of the minutes played and 19.9 percent of the scoring from the previous season, after losing Geno Crandall, Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Jeremy Jones, and Josh Perkins—four-fifths of the starting lineup. Before COVID wiped that tournament off the books, the Zags were ranked No. 2 in the country and well on their way to yet another No. 1 seed.
Essentially, the Zags have been there, done that, repeatedly. Each year, Gonzaga has reloaded in the appropriate places to maintain themselves as a nationally-relevant discussion for the season. Why bet against the coaching staff now?
There will of course be questions about the Zags next season. There are questions every season. Timme and Rasir Bolton are definitively finished with college and there is a very good chance Julian Strawther will hear his name called in the NBA Draft. Anton Watson and Malachi Smith have some decisions to make regarding that bonus fifth year.
You can also put me firmly in the camp of the future looks bright. Even in the worse case scenario, with all five of those names departing, the Zags return a core featuring Hunter Sallis, Nolan Hickman, Dominick Harris, Ben Gregg, and Efton Reid.
Add to that core Braden Huff, a former Mr. Illinois who has been redshirting in practice all season against Timme; Korean transfer Jun Seok Yeo, who averaged a tournament-high 25.6 points in the 2021 FIBA U-19 World Cup; Alex Toohey, the Australian winger widely considered the top international prospect in the Class of 2024; and four-star guard Dusty Stromer, who averaged 19 points per game his senior year.
We haven’t even discussed transfers yet, which, of course, Gonzaga will add some. If Smith and Watson decide to exercise that extra year of eligibility, well, the party just got better.
That might not be preseason top-five material, but if we take any one thing away from this season, it is the following: Preseason rankings don’t mean a single thing in this college basketball landscape.
This season, a very loud and vocal contingent of the online fanbase considered this season over after the exhibition loss to Tennessee. They called it the worst Gonzaga team in 20 years after the Texas loss. They called it Mark Few’s worst coaching job after the loss to Purdue. They curled into the fetal position and cried themselves to sleep after the home loss to LMU. They wrote the team off at every single opportunity, and as far as I could tell, tuned in each night to just work to find something new to be angry about.
I tuned in each night and saw a special season. I saw Drew Timme cement himself as one of the top Zags ever. I saw a team that needed time to figure it out, and once they did that, rarely gave up—providing some amazing shots along the way. I saw a team that was flawed and human, but also one that was so much fun to watch when things were clicking.
That, my friends, is Gonzaga basketball. Sometimes the squad is a brutal death machine, and sometimes they are less than that. This fanbase has been spoiled by absurd levels of success as of late. If this season is what we consider a “down year,” please tell me how to sign up for life.
The Drew Timme era is closing, but that is college basketball. Players come and players go. Next season, new storylines will exist, and we will watch the Zags battle once again. Guaranteed: We will see and hear a lot about them come March, like we do every year.