Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Gonzaga's streak of 11 straight WCC regular-season titles ended last year when Saint Mary's knocked the Zags off their throne. In typical Mark Few fashion, he'll have the Bulldogs in conference championship contention and competing on the national level.
It is almost unfair that the Zags had a pair of freshmen guards play as well Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. did last year. Pangos made an early splash with his nine triples in his second college game and proved to be one of the better three-point threats in college basketball. At 48%, Bell Jr. also showed he can stroke it from deep, but really thrives on his aggressive style of play on both ends. The duo should be even more dangerous this season with a full year of experience under the belt.
Guy Landry Eli figures to start at small forward where he'll be the fifth offensive option and someone who must be more of a glue guy for Gonzaga to play at its peak. Energy role-player Mike Hart brings effort off the bench, while David Stockton brings experience at the backup point guard position, which will also allow Pangos to play some off the ball. Redshirt freshman Kyle Danginis brings some scoring punch off the bench since he can stroke it from distance.
Senior Elias Harris will anchor the frontcourt. He is a versatile inside/outside threat who really showed increased aggressiveness on the glass during his junior campaign. Sam Dower will move from a key reserve role into the starting lineup replacing Robert Sacre in the middle. Dower doesn't bring the physicality to the paint that Sacre did, but offers more versatility due to his ability to step out and knock down shots on the perimeter.
Someone who does carry a ton of size in the middle is 7-1, 305-pound freshman Przemek Karnowski, who instantly becomes my favorite Polish college basketball player of all time (primarily because I can't think of another.) The big-man has played well in his homeland, but is still very much a work in progress. Still, you can't teach that kind of size, so he should be able to at least contribute as someone who can take up space in the paint and crash the boards. Another seven-footer, Kelly Olynyk who redshirted last year, brings more size off the bench and can also stretch defenses with his mid-range jumper.
Few picked up a pair of key transfers on the wing in Providence's Gerard Coleman and Drew Barham of Memphis. They must sit this season per NCAA rules but when they become eligible for the 2013-14 season, should help offset the losses of Landry Eli and Hart.
The Zags have put together a remarkable run of success that most major conference programs would kill to have. 14 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament with at least 23 victories in each season. You can pretty much guarantee those streaks will continue this season, and Gonzaga will remain a regular in the Top-25 rankings.
Player to Watch: Elias Harris, F
The Germany native made a splash during his freshman campaign. but saw a dip in production as he battled injury as a sophomore. Harris seemed to be back at full strength last year, and it showed on the court. With a solid supporting cast, he won't need to do too much, but his experience and leadership will be vital to the Bulldogs' success.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/12 vs. West Virginia
11/22 vs. Clemson (Old Spice Classic)
11/23 vs. Oklahoma/UTEP (Old Spice Classic)
11/25 vs. Vanderbilt/Davidson/West Virginia/Marist (Old Spice Classic)