Gonzaga Basketball Could Contend for Final Four in 2016/2017

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have run one of the most successful college basketball programs in the past decade. Gonzaga has been to 18 straight NCAA tournaments, and the team could only be getting better.

Despite losing the team’s top three scorers and four of the top eight scorers overall, Gonzaga is poised for a potential Final Four run during the upcoming season.

Yes, impact players like Kyle Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis, Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis have all departed, but the Zags return plenty of talent.

Up front, Przemek Karnowski is back for a sixth season. The towering center is a force in the paint and an adept passer. It’s probably not a stretch to say that you can run an offense through him. What’s more, he can also provide a significant impact on defense with his shot-altering ability.

Additionally, the team brings back point guard Josh Perkins, who shot 38% from three last year, to go along with 10.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. Defensive stopper and double-digit scoring threat Silas Melson also returns.

The real excitement comes in Gonzaga’s new arrivals. Johnathan Williams, who sat out last season after transferring from Missouri, will take one of the frontcourt spots vacated by Wiltjer and Sabonis. The ex-Missouri standout averaged 16.2 points and 9.7 rebound per 40 minutes at his previous school.

Fellow transfer Nigel Williams-Goss, who arrives via Washington, will also start. The point guard should slot in next to Perkins in a two-guard backcourt. In his sophomore campaign in Seattle, the stat-sheet stuffer averaged 17 points, 6.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds per 40 minutes.

Rounding out the list of transfers is Jordan Mathews. The shooting guard arrives after a successful career at Cal, where he averaged at least 17.6 points per 40 minutes in each of his seasons at the school. In his last year with the Pac-12 heavyweights, the sharpshooter hit 41.6% of his threes while adding 18.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists per 40 minutes.

With a starting lineup consisting of Williams-Goss, Perkins, Mathews, Williams and Karnowski, Gonzaga should make some serious noise in the early going as a team that lands in the top 10 or 15 of rankings.

However, what makes the Zags special is there depth.

Head coach Mark Few welcomes perhaps the best recruiting class in school history. Center Zach Collins and shooting guard Zach Norvell are both ESPN 100 recrutis, while Tille and Hachimura are ranked as four-star prospects by Scout.com. Well-regarded Danish center Jacob Larsen rounds out the group.

Collins looks like a future pro with a solid post game, range to step out and knock down shots from the outside, as well as the ability to block shots. Meanwhile, Norvell is a dynamic scorer that should immediately make an impact off the bench.

Hachimura will provide another dynamic presence on the perimeter. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla said that “He’s going to remind people of a bigger Elias Harris.”

With Karnoswki, Williams, Collins and junior center Ryan Edwards taking up minutes down low, Tille and Larsen may end up redshirting, however, if they play it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either make an impact considering how well Gonzaga has recruited internationally over the last few years.

Not only do Gonzaga have the talent be extremely successful next season, but they also have the depth to sustain a deep NCAA tournament run.

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Kyle Wiltjer Reportedly Returning for Senior Season

Gonzaga fans got some good news for the third time in the past few weeks. Coming on the heels of Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis will return next season, Kyle Wiltjer will reportedly stick around for his senior season in Spokane.

Wiltjer led a talented Zags team in scoring (16.8 points per game) while helping Gonzaga reach only the second Elite Eight in program history. Mark Few and company will likely continue their pursuit of top transfers Damion Lee (eligible immediately) and Nigel Williams-Goss (will have to sit out a year). 

For more on Gonzaga, UW and WSUclick here.

Top Transfer Marcus Foster Considering Gonzaga

Former Kansas State guard is considering transferring to Gonzaga to finish out his college basketball career.Foster finished his sophomore season at KSU with per-game averages of 12.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He shot 34.7% from three-point land. This comes after a freshman season in which he scored 15.5 points a contest and put up 3.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. The 6’2” guard shot 39.5% from deep in his first season at Kansas State.

It’s probably safe to say he’d be forgiven for doing this if he suits up for the Zags.

Foster is also considering Creighton, Cincinnati and LSU.

Fellow sought-after transfer Nigel Williams-Goss is also considering Gonzaga. 

For more on Gonzaga, UW and WSUclick here.

Nigel Williams-Goss Transfer: Guard Considering Gonzaga

University of Washington guard Nigel Williams-Goss is leaving UW. The Oregon native and former McDonald’s All-American will transfer and is reportedly considering Gonzaga. According to Chris Haynes, the guard is also considering UNLV, Texas, Georgetown, Michigan State and Arkansas. He averaged 15.6 points, 5.9 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game at UW last season.

The Zags already have their future point guard in Josh Perkins, but a backcourt of Williams-Goss and Perkins would be pretty dynamic, not to mention fun to watch. Just for kicks and whistles, here’s some highlights of Perkins’ passing.

Stanford and Cal apparently reached out to the guard, but as Haynes notes, programs can make it tough to transfer within conferences.

One thing is for certain, if Williams-Goss heads to Gonzaga, it would certainly spice up a rivalry that has grown dormant in the past few years.

For more on Gonzaga, UW and WSU, click here.


March Madness: How Gonzaga Matches up with Duke

Gonzaga and Duke will meet in the South Regional final for a chance to go to the Final Four. In some ways, the matchup represents two very different, yet similar teams. Duke is former champion steeped in tradition seeking yet another Final Four berth while Gonzaga searches for an elusive appearance on college basketball’s biggest stage to cement itself among the best.

Both teams like to get up and down and score, so expect an entertaining game. Many will pick Duke thanks to the Blue Devil’s slightly higher seed and the fact that they don’t really respect Gonzaga. Most basketball fans won’t admit to disrespecting the Zags, but there is a level of disbelief that continues to follow Gonzaga.

Even after the program reached the Elite Eight. Yes, that’s right, the Elite Eight, pundits are still doubting the Zags. Sure, GU didn’t exactly knockout #1 seeds in the tournament, but that doesn’t mean they should be knocked for reaching this point for the first time since 1999. It’s almost like taking the easy way out and forming an opinion without watching Gonzaga enough to realize that yes, they are in fact really good and can beat anyone. They even have the size to challenge and compete with Kentucky.

After the Zags’ Przemek Karnowski-led frontline destroyed their UCLA counterparts, the Zags will face Duke in Houston on Sunday. Some will tell you otherwise, but GU actually matches up well with the Blue Devils.

The South’s top-seeded team feature three extremely talented freshman in Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justice Winslow. Outside of the trio and Quinn Cook, Coach K has exactly zero players averaging double-figures. Duke has depth issues, but the team is generally able to overcome them thanks to their stars, especially Okafor. The Blue Devils have Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson, but other than that there is a definite dearth of size. Additionally, neither are even close to being in the same discussion as Okafor offensively. Winslow was slid to the four next to Okafor at center to help combat this. While Winslow will likely be tasked with slowing down Kyle Wiltjer, Okafor will have issues with Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis on both ends of the floor.

The beauty of Gonzaga’s frontline is that they not only features a rotation of bigs, but that those bigs can beat you in different ways. Wiltjer is the stretch four who can score from any spot on the floor while Sabonis is the rare freshman with an extremely polished offensive, low-post game. He also brings energy, size and rebounding to the team when he enters the game. Karnowski is a different matchup entirely. The 7’1” center is the definition of an immovable object in the lane with soft hands and potent array of hook shots.

With all three at his disposal, Mark Few relies on a rotation, which was on full display against UCLA as the Zags’ coach constantly subbed the post players in and out in order to keep them fresh. With Duke expected to heavily rely on Okafor, tiring him out will be key. This won’t be hard with the rotation and number of screens the Zags tend to set.

Gonzaga’s opponents also have a tendency to pile up fouls quickly, often leaving the Zags in the bonus for long stretches of the game. Most of this has to do with post players trying to grapple with the “mountain masquerading as a man” known as Przemek Karnowski. Karnowski’s size also provides him the opportunity to shut down Okafor on the defensive end. Simply put, Karnowski is a big dude and despite his offensive gifts, Okafor will have trouble scoring on him.

Getting Okafor gassed and/or in foul trouble will give the Zags a leg up in the game. It will also expose the Blue Devils lack of depth. In Duke’s last two tournament games they have played one exactly one player more than 10 minutes, and that was Jefferson who averages 6.6 points per game.

Outside of the starting five for GU, Sabonis essentially plays “starter minutes” off the bench while Kyle Dranginis’ minute totals approach “starter” territory. If it turns into a game of depth, the Zags will have the upper hand.

There will be offensive fireworks with both teams likely to have adjusted to the cavernous backdrop of the stadium in Houston. Expect an entertaining match as both the Zags and Blue Devils seek a Final Four berth.

For more Gonzaga coverage, including how the 2011 recruiting class is paying dividends, click here. 

Gonzaga Bulldogs: 2011 Recruiting Class Paying Massive Dividends for Mark Few & Zags

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have never quite been able to recruit the same level of talent out of high school as the likes of Kentucky, Duke and Kansas, however GU has firmly cemented its place alongside those three schools in the College Basketball hierarchy by recruiting players who not only fit their system and culture, but players that they can develop.

The Zags also tend to find gems on the international market with future NBA players Ronny Turiaf, Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacre all coming from outside the states. The Zags have two future NBA players on their roster in European big men Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis.

Despite the lack of McDonalds All-Americans, Mark Few has put together impressive recruiting classes in the past. 2007 brought Sacre and another future NBA player in Austin Daye as well as fellow top-100 recruit Steven Gray who flourished as one of the team’s best players.

While the 2011 class didn’t bring the size that 2007’s brought, the group of players to arrive in Spokane in 2011 has helped propel GU to its first Sweet 16 since 2009. This year’s incarnation of Gonzaga may be Mark Few’s best, and could reach the school’s first Final Four. While a lot of this has to do with the Zags’ daunting frontline, featuring a three-headed monster of Karnowski, Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer, a lot of it has to do with the backcourt.

Starting guards, and products of the 2011 recruiting class, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. have sacrificed a lot in order to make the team better. Both have seen their per-game scoring numbers drop by nearly three points each. Bell Jr. is often tasked with checking the opposition’s best permitted defender while Pangos rarely gets a breather, playing 35 or minutes on 22 occasions this season.

Despite their sacrifices, Pangos and Bell Jr. form one of the best backcourts in the country.

Pangos is an unflappable floor-general who is lethal from three-point land (44.9% this season) and can beat you off the dribble with a potent array of layups and floaters. If Gonzaga weren’t incredibly blessed with a wealth of scoring options, it would surprise no one to see Pangos’ per-game scoring approach 20 points. Oh yeah, he’d probably start on just about every team in the country… including Kentucky.

His backcourt mate Bell Jr. is one of the best defenders in the country. Despite a 6’2” frame that puts him at a height disadvantage, Bell Jr. can lock down almost anyone on the perimeter. Just ask BYU’s Tyler Haws, who despite having a height advantage of three inches and being one of the best scores in the country, struggled mightily against the Zags due to the presence of Bell Jr. Haws’ bread and butter is the contested mid-range jumper, but he managed shooting nights of 6-14, 3-11 and 4-12 against Gonzaga. And oh yeah, Bell Jr. can knock down the three as well. He shot 47.7% as a freshman and still manages a similarly deadly 37.7 clip this season. Similar to Pangos, if GU had fewer weapons or if Bell Jr. were at a bigger school with less firepower, he’d likely be a 15 point-per-game scorer.

In addition to Pangos and Bell Jr., Few also brought in Idaho native Kyle Dranginis as well.  Dranginis operates as the team’s hustle monger off the bench, always challenging for offensive rebounds, loose balls and blocked shots despite being shorter than a good portion of the opposition. He only averages 4.1 points a contest, but if it weren’t for the presence of USC-transfer Wesley, Dranginis would be starting and easily averaging double-figures in points per game. Despite only scoring three points in the team’s round-of-32 win over Iowa, he had a steal, a block, two rebounds and four assists. He fills the stat sheet for the Zags. In win at Sweet Sixteen opponent UCLA in December, Dranginis totaled five points, six rebounds and five assists. He also had a steal and a made three pointer.

Due to freshman Josh Perkins’ broken jaw and Eric McClellan’s acclimation process, Few has largely depended on a backcourt rotation of Pangos, Bell Jr. and Dranginis down the stretch.

In addition to those three, GU’s 2011 recruiting class is also paying dividends elsewhere. Forward Ryan Spangler transferred to Oklahoma to be closer to home and has helped the Sooners to the Sweet Sixteen with 9.9 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per contest. He posted seven double-doubles this season and reached double-figures in rebounding in 12 contests.

The remaining members of the 2011 class have propelled the Zags to a point where they can reach the program’s first final four. They’ve definitely earned it.