A couple of days ago, Zach and I were having a casual conversation about the upcoming season. While there was some debate about what the rotation might look like, the one thing that we both agreed on was that this was the most excited we have been for a season since the 2008/2009 team that advanced to the Sweet 16. Ever since the loss of that talented and successful squad, it feels like Gonzaga has been in the process of reloading. After a couple of transfers out of the program and the surprising maturity of the talented backcourt, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about this group.
The primary reason this group has the chance to be successful is the pair of sophomore guards in the backcourt. Despite a tremendous freshman season, Kevin Pangos continues to be underrated. According to CBSSports, Pangos is the 30th best point guard in the country heading into the season. While I am not one to make guarantees (editor's note...I am totally one to make guarantees), there is no chance there are 29 better PG's in the country. Pangos is one of the elite shooters in the country, hitting over 40% of his shots from behind the three-point line as a freshman. His understanding of the offense and the personnel around him will only be stronger with another year of experience.
While Pangos grabbed many of the headlines after his historic performance against WSU, Gary Bell Jr. managed to be consistently excellent while flying under the radar. GBJ proved to be a much better shooter than advertised and slowly started to emerge as an elite scorer at the end of the season. In fact, the only person that was capable of slowing down GBJ, was GBJ. The sophomore guard only attempted double-digit shot attempts five times during the season despite being nearly a 50% shooter from the field. As he continues to develop the mindset to dominate offensively, there is no reason he can't emerge as one of the best guards on the West Coast.
Although the backcourt should be enough to get every fan excited, it wouldn't be fair to talk about this team without mentioning Elias Harris. The interesting thing about Harris is that he has been so consistently solid over the course of his career that people sometimes forget just how good he is. Last season, Harris averaged 13.1 ppg and a career-high 8.5 rpg. He had the chance to play against some of the best competition in the country during the summer and from all reports played at a very high level. So many people fixate on the tough sophomore season that Harris had, but seem to forget how excellent he was at the end of his junior season (four double-doubles over his last seven games). Harris might not be a lottery pick like people once suggested, but he is going to be a dominant performer during his senior season and will have a longer career in the NBA.
The other key piece to the puzzle this season is Sam Dower. Over the past two years, Dower has shown flashes of being the most talented offensive big man since JP Batista. This year he will finally have the chance to start and earn consistent minutes on the court. I know some people wonder if he can deliver, but when you realize that in the 12 times Sam played 20+ minutes in a game, he scored in double-figures eight times, it really should eliminate any concerns. Simply, whenever he has been given the chance to play extended minutes, he has delivered.
With those four guys on your team, the potential is very high. When you add in talented pieces like Przemek Karnowski, Guy Landry Edi, Drew Barham and Kyle Dranginis, it's hard not to get excited about the versatility and lineup combinations that we could see on the court. I know the approach of the Gonzaga fan tends to be pessimistic, but it's really hard to ignore just how special this group can be.