Search Bloguru posts

Bud Withers' Blog

https://en.bloguru.com/GloryHounds

What to expect when the Zags have high expectations

thread

The question, on a Gonzaga message board, got me to thinking. It asked if there was even slight concern the Zags might not live up to the considerable hype in 2018-19.

So I hit the archives, in search of any telltale signs that preseason expectations have proved too much for the Zags to shoulder. Their No. 3 preseason ranking (the current station) was highest ever at GU.

In the previous 20 seasons – the Gonzaga golden era – the Zags were preseason-ranked in 15. Three of the misses came in the first four years.

This is the fifth time GU has gone into a season ranked in the AP top 10. Maybe the most enlightening thing that can be said is that three of the previous four seasons with a preseason top-10 ranking ended in some of Gonzaga’s most crushing losses.

(It's worth noting that self-imposed pressure isn't the only potential reason for failing to deliver on the hype. It could be because of lousy chemistry or because a key player underperformed, etc.)

Surely the most herky-jerky in that group of the preseason-ranked-top-10 was the 2015-16 outfit, which started at No. 9. This was the team that had lost Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. to graduation.

It mucked through December with home losses to Arizona and UCLA when Przemek Karnowski injured his back; saw Karnowski miss the entire season after surgery; got swept in the regular season by Saint Mary’s; looked for all the world like it might finally miss the NCAA tournament; suddenly sprang up out of a casket to win the WCC tournament; as an 11th seed, blew away Seton Hall and Utah by double digits in the NCAA tournament; and finally fell to Syracuse in the Sweet 16 after losing a lead down the stretch.

Oh, and all of this for the world to see on an HBO series on the team. As Mike Roth, the athletic director, called the season: “. . . a freakin’ Greek tragedy.”

On more than one occasion, I think you can make the case that Gonzaga’s prominence – its seed in the NCAA tournament – might have had the opposition on high alert and thereby made it more difficult for the Zags. In that vein, Nevada, a 10 seed in 2004 at KeyArena, blew away No. 2 seed Gonzaga.

It’s worth throwing out this: There have been times in the past when I thought Gonzaga was overrated – not as a failing of its own, but because of the nature of the polls. The Zags don’t lose much when January hits, and if you don’t lose, you move up in the polls. It looked worse when that No. 3-ranked team lost to Nevada, simply because Gonzaga probably was overrated.

By and large, though, I would point to only one case in which the Zags might have felt the weight of the world – when they attained their first No. 1 ranking in March of 2013, narrowly slipped by a 16th-seeded Southern University team, and then fell to ninth-seeded Wichita State. Everything was new to the Zags – being ranked No. 1 was a late-season novelty, and being a No. 1 seed was a first.

In the evolution of any program, there are fits and starts and mountains climbed and lessons learned. The whole of it, the fact Gonzaga has been to a Final Four and checked most of the boxes of a high-level program, and had experience dealing with all of it, seems to argue against a significant shortfall. But hey, such unknowns are why they play the games.

A look at how the previous 20 seasons developed with regard to the AP poll (preseason ranking is in parentheses):

1999: (Unranked) Stormed to the Elite Eight.

2000: (24) . . . reached No. 22 late in December but then fell out of the rankings for good . . . barged to the Sweet 16.

2001: (Unranked) . . . was never ranked . . . made the Sweet 16 for a third straight year.

2002: (Unranked) . . . rose all the way to No. 6 by March 12 but had its first real downer in the 20-year tournament run, losing to Wyoming.

2003: (22) . . . inched to No. 20 by Nov. 26, then fell out of polls the rest of the way . . . finished with memorable double-OT loss to top-seeded Arizona in the NCAA second round.

2004: (10) . . . stayed in polls throughout and was ranked No. 3 in mid-March before stunning blowout loss to Nevada at KeyArena.

2005: (25) . . . fell out of the polls one week, got as high as No. 10 on March 15 and eventually lost to Texas Tech in the NCAA second round.

2006: (8) . . . stayed in single-digit poll rankings all season . . . lost heartbreaker to UCLA in the Sweet 16.

2007: (Unranked) . . . got as high as No. 16, but shorthanded club fell in the NCAA first round to Indiana.

2008: (14) . . . had nine-week period in mid-season unranked … re-emerged late in season at No. 24 before falling to Stephen Curry-led Davidson in first round of NCAA, the last time GU lost in the first round.

2009: (10) . . . jumped to No. 4 in early December after Old Spice championship, fell all the way out of the rankings with three-game loss streak in December, then recovered to No. 10 before Sweet 16 loss to eventual champ North Carolina.

2010: (Unranked) . . . got as high as No. 13 and was 22nd when it was ousted big by Syracuse in NCAA second round.

2011: (12) . . . lost five games by mid-December (San Diego State, Kansas State, Illinois, WSU, Notre Dame) and never saw the rankings after November . . . got Jimmered in the NCAA second round.

2012: (23) … the most in-and-out (of the rankings) team in the 20-year run, it entered and exited five times each . . . Ohio State ended the Zags’ season in the NCAA second round.

2013: (21) . . . this club was relatively unheralded early, but got all the way to No. 1 early in March and held that ranking three weeks before ouster against Wichita State in the NCAA second round.

2014: (15) … was only twice in polls after the New Year and out by March, when it fell badly to top-seeded Arizona in the NCAA second round.

2015: (13) . . . with only an overtime loss at Arizona in December, Zags shot all the way to No. 2 on Feb. 2, then followed with a defeat to BYU on Senior Night . . . ended a 35-3 season with an Elite Eight loss to Duke.

2016: (9 ) . . . after Przemek Karnowski injury, fell out of the polls by mid-December, and only bobbed back into them once at No. 25 . . . then assembled a surprise March run that ended with a heartbreaking loss to Syracuse in the Sweet 16.

2017: (14) . . . with victories over Florida and Iowa State and a title in the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando, Zags shot to No. 1 for the second time in school history by Jan. 30 . . . they went undefeated all the way to Feb. 25 before their first loss – another Senior Night setback against BYU – then began a watershed March run all the way to the NCAA title game, ending with a loss to North Carolina.

2018: (18) . . . Zags got as high as No. 6 in a 32-5 season, including a decisive loss to eventual champ Villanova in New York in early December . . . they made their fourth straight Sweet 16 before a season-ending loss to Florida State.
#zagmbb #theslipperstillfits #wcchoops #zagup #zaghoops #unitedwezag

People Who Wowed This Post

The Tillie injury: What's it mean to the Zags?

thread

Gonzaga’s breakthrough to the NCAA basketball championship game two years ago not only put the Zags in a new and celestial territory, it changed the way people look at them. So, as they assembled pieces for the 2018-19 season and began drawing consensus preseason top-five acclaim nationally, I found myself switching the operative question from, “What’s it going to take for them to make the Final Four?” to “What would keep them from doing it?”

Soon after, Killian Tillie went down with a stress fracture of the ankle, reminding us that the best-laid plans can go poof at the blink of a bone scan. Tillie is expected to be out until about the end of December, which is both good news and bad. If healthy, he’ll have plenty of time to be re-integrated into the lineup before the rigors of March. But he’s going to miss the games that will say a lot about the Zags’ positioning in the NCAA tournament bracket.

With the season starting next week, some notions about what Tillie’s injury means:

First, and Zag fans might want to knock wood at this, but the program has been relatively fortunate over the years at not sustaining a season-torpedoing succession of injuries. Yes, there have been severe setbacks in the 20-year run of NCAA tournaments, from Mike Nilson’s achilles tear in 2000 to Przemek Karnowski’s back injury in 2015-16, and in between, Kevin Pangos’ season-long ordeal with turf toe in 2013-14. (And for one, brutal half, Gary Bell Jr.’s ankle that denied him at the break of the Wichita State apocalypse in 2013.)

Tillie, in fact, has had it about as bad as anybody in a Zag uniform. He missed 10 games two years ago leading into the WCC tournament with a severe ankle sprain, and a hip problem took him out of GU’s Sweet 16 matchup against Florida State last season. Now this.

First thing I thought of when Tillie’s injury news broke? Corey Kispert. Not because he’s a facsimile of Tillie – he’s 6-6, not 6-10, and is a swingman, not a stretch-four – but because the trickle-down from Tillie’s injury means Kispert will get more key minutes, and let’s not forget, Kispert was playing well enough at the beginning of his freshman season to be a starter at the three spot. Indications are, he’s had a stellar fall camp. Freshman big Filip Petrusev more closely mirrors Tillie’s skills, but I’d look for Kispert to emerge.

Let’s consider the NCAA bracket implications from Tillie’s injury. As always, the basketball committee will give lip service to how a team has fared with and without the injured player. The problem here for Gonzaga is pretty simple: If Tillie indeed doesn’t return until after the real bullets have been fired in November and December, it’s going to be difficult to assess the Zags with him, because the WCC schedule is so forgiving.

Say they blow through the WCC schedule with one loss. It’s going to be easy for skeptics to write that off to a soft conference.

Some struggles before the New Year wouldn’t be a deal-breaker in March, but surely the potential is there to drop a seed line or more because of some heavyweight losses.

So let’s look at it like this: I see six big-time challenges on the schedule in November and December. (OK, this is entirely unscientific, subject to breakthroughs by other teams and breakdowns by the Zags, but hear me out.) Those would be the latter two games at the Maui Invitational (against either Arizona or Iowa State and whatever the final day brings – possibly Duke); at Creighton Dec. 1; Washington Dec. 5; Tennessee in Phoenix Dec. 9; and at North Carolina Dec. 15.

I’d set an over/under on wins for that six-pack at 3.5. (Among other things, the challenge of Gonzaga's final day in Maui will depend heavily on its results the first two days.) So in my mind, if the Zags can squeeze four victories from that half-dozen, it would be a triumph coming out of pre-conference play. And assuming no other missteps, that would curb the March-bracket damage from Tillie’s absence to one seed line – if that.


#zagmbb #theslipperstillfits #wcchoops #zagup #zaghoops #unitedwezag

People Who Wowed This Post

Preseason Zag notes from the banquet circuit

thread
Attended the Tacoma edition of the Gonzaga alumni office’s series of coaches basketball gatherings Thursday night in Tacoma, featuring women’s assistant Stacy Clinesmith and men’s aide Donny Daniels. About 100 attended, a nice turnout – which apparently was in contrast to a tepid response in Seattle and Portland (what, they aren’t winning enough for you folks?)

“Twenty years,” Daniels said, referring to Gonzaga’s 20-year string of NCAA tournaments. “I’m telling you, this does not happen in the United States of America. To sustain this for as long as Mark (Few) has . . . this does not happen everywhere.”

More Daniels thoughts on Zag personnel:

-- Rui Hachimura. “He’s played basketball his whole life, but he’s really only played the last two years, as far as structure and competition," Daniels said. "He’s come a long way, but by no means is he a finished product." Referring to Hachimura’s two-game trip to Korea to play for the Japanese nationals in September, Daniels said lightly, “He’s got the weight of Gonzaga on his shoulders, he’s got the weight of Japan on his shoulders.”

-- Josh Perkins. “He’s going to be the catalyst for what we do,” Daniels said. Noting that Perkins has recovered from spring shoulder surgery, he said, “He’s been there four years, and he’s always answered the bell. Knee, shoulders, back, he’s had it all.” Daniels says that with 35 victories this year – “we’ve done it, but nothing’s ever guaranteed” – Perkins would become the all-time winningest college player. Checking the math, I come up with something slightly different, and Friday, I was unable to confirm. I have Przemek Karnowski having been a part of 137 Gonzaga victories, and Perkins with an even 100.

-- Killian Tillie. “He got hurt in practice (shoulder) before the Florida State game (in the Sweet 16),” Daniels said. “it was a blessing in disguise. We got beat by Florida State, but Tillie couldn’t work out for any NBA teams for the next six weeks.” Tillie gets a lot of prompting from coaches to be more physical.

-- Zach Norvell. Daniels marveled at how Norvell, struggling last year against Creighton, missed a free throw – on which a sub was waiting to enter the game for him – and Norvell went on to nail two straight threes, launching three straight 20-point-plus games against the Blue Jays, Villanova and Washington. “It’s amazing how life turns,” Daniels said. “If he makes that foul shot, he comes out.” It’s a slimmer “Snacks” this year, Daniels says, but he still has a knack for taking the tough shot even after a down game. “That’s in the DNA,” Daniels says. “Some people have it, some don’t.”

-- Brandon Clarke. “He’ll be one of the best shot-blockers Gonzaga’s ever had,” Daniels said. “He has a great feel for staying down, staying down and then going up. He’s a quick jumper.” Clarke is a scorer, but he’s not likely to lead the team in assists, Daniels said. “When Brandon catches the ball, he’s a black hole. It never comes out.”

-- Corey Kispert. The GU coaches would like to see more offensive rebounding, but Daniels says Kispert has showed some of the same flashes that he did a year ago before a sprained ankle early in the season derailed him. “Right now, he’s playing really, really well,” Daniels said. Recalling Kispert’s preseason a year ago, Daniels said, “Before he got hurt, he was gangbusters. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

-- Geno Crandall. “He’ll be that all-around guy,” Daniels said. “He’s playing to his ability, and he has ability. He’s quick, he can get in a stance and guard, he can make plays, put pressure on the defense in transition. He gives us a legitimate, ball-handling guard. He can hit a three. The ball doesn’t come out of his hand great, but it can go down. He’s a great kid who fits in with our guys well.”

-- Filip Petrusev: “He’ll be a classic Gonzaga forward. He shoots threes, he puts the ball on the ground. He’s got to get more physical and he’s got this laid-back, step-back shot that we’re not real fond of now. But he’s going to be a very good player.”

Daniels noted the athleticism and length of true freshman guard Greg Foster, and said his development over the next few weeks will determine whether he redshirts. Joel Ayayi, who redshirted last year, “will get some minutes,” Daniels said, “but Crandall is pretty good. Everything changed when Geno got here. You take a fifth-year guy, you kind of commit to him, although him getting here this late, the commitment is not as great as if he’d got here in August.”

Daniels says big man Jacob Larsen, still on scholarship and in school but not on the roster, “is going through some life challenges that he has to figure out. We as a staff and university are supporting him.”
#zagmbb #theslipperstillfits #wcchoops #zagup #zaghoops #unitedwezag

People Who Wowed This Post

Preseason Zag notes from the banquet circuit

thread
Attended the Tacoma edition of the Gonzaga alumni office’s series of coaches basketball gatherings Thursday night in Tacoma, featuring women’s assistant Stacy Clinesmith and men’s aide Donny Daniels. About 100 attended, a nice turnout – which apparently was in contrast to a tepid response in Seattle and Portland (what, they aren’t winning enough for you folks?)

“Twenty years,” Daniels said, referring to Gonzaga’s 20-year string of NCAA tournaments. “I’m telling you, this does not happen in the United States of America. To sustain this for as long as Mark (Few) has . . . this does not happen everywhere.”

More Daniels thoughts on Zag personnel:

-- Rui Hachimura. “He’s played basketball his whole life, but he’s really only played the last two years, as far as structure and competition," Daniels said. "He’s come a long way, but by no means is he a finished product." Referring to Hachimura’s two-game trip to Korea to play for the Japanese nationals in September, Daniels said lightly, “He’s got the weight of Gonzaga on his shoulders, he’s got the weight of Japan on his shoulders.”

-- Josh Perkins. “He’s going to be the catalyst for what we do,” Daniels said. Noting that Perkins has recovered from spring shoulder surgery, he said, “He’s been there four years, and he’s always answered the bell. Knee, shoulders, back, he’s had it all.” Daniels says that with 35 victories this year – “we’ve done it, but nothing’s ever guaranteed” – Perkins would become the all-time winningest college player. Checking the math, I come up with something slightly different, and Friday, I was unable to confirm. I have Przemek Karnowski having been a part of 137 Gonzaga victories, and Perkins with an even 100.

-- Killian Tillie. “He got hurt in practice (hip) before the Florida State game (in the Sweet 16),” Daniels said. “it was a blessing in disguise. We got beat by Florida State, but Tillie couldn’t work out for any NBA teams for the next six weeks.” Tillie gets a lot of prompting from coaches to be more physical.

-- Zach Norvell. Daniels marveled at how Norvell, struggling last year against Creighton, missed a free throw – on which a sub was waiting to enter the game for him – and Norvell went on to nail two straight threes, launching three straight 20-point-plus games against the Blue Jays, Villanova and Washington. “It’s amazing how life turns,” Daniels said. “If he makes that foul shot, he comes out.” It’s a slimmer “Snacks” this year, Daniels says, but he still has a knack for taking the tough shot even after a down game. “That’s in the DNA,” Daniels says. “Some people have it, some don’t.”

-- Brandon Clarke. “He’ll be one of the best shot-blockers Gonzaga’s ever had,” Daniels said. “He has a great feel for staying down, staying down and then going up. He’s a quick jumper.” Clarke is a scorer, but he’s not likely to lead the team in assists, Daniels said. “When Brandon catches the ball, he’s a black hole. It never comes out.”

-- Corey Kispert. The GU coaches would like to see more offensive rebounding, but Daniels says Kispert has showed some of the same flashes that he did a year ago before a sprained ankle early in the season derailed him. “Right now, he’s playing really, really well,” Daniels said. Recalling Kispert’s preseason a year ago, Daniels said, “Before he got hurt, he was gangbusters. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

-- Geno Crandall. “He’ll be that all-around guy,” Daniels said. “He’s playing to his ability, and he has ability. He’s quick, he can get in a stance and guard, he can make plays, put pressure on the defense in transition. He gives us a legitimate, ball-handling guard. He can hit a three. The ball doesn’t come out of his hand great, but it can go down. He’s a great kid who fits in with our guys well.”

-- Filip Petrusev: “He’ll be a classic Gonzaga forward. He shoots threes, he puts the ball on the ground. He’s got to get more physical and he’s got this laid-back, step-back shot that we’re not real fond of now. But he’s going to be a very good player.”

Daniels noted the athleticism and length of true freshman guard Greg Foster, and said his development over the next few weeks will determine whether he redshirts. Joel Ayayi, who redshirted last year, “will get some minutes,” Daniels said, “but Crandall is pretty good. Everything changed when Geno got here. You take a fifth-year guy, you kind of commit to him, although him getting here this late, the commitment is not as great as if he’d got here in August.”

Daniels says big man Jacob Larsen, still on scholarship and in school but not on the roster, “is going through some life challenges that he has to figure out. We as a staff and university are supporting him.”
#zagmbb #theslipperstillfits #wcchoops #zagup #zaghoops #unitedwezag

People Who Wowed This Post

As school begins, Zags' first assignment is chemistry

thread

For about as long as I can remember, the end of a Gonzaga basketball season has been accompanied by a paean of thanks from the coach, Mark Few, about what a pleasure it was to be around his team all year. How it was a joy to travel with these guys, how the egos were manageable, how they put the good of the group ahead of their own agendas.

Now, as school again convenes at Gonzaga and coaches begin to lay the spiritual groundwork for Few’s 20th season as head man, Few has what could be his greatest challenge ahead.

Or it may be no challenge whatsoever, so seamlessly do almost all Gonzaga teams come together for the greater good.

I don’t have any doubt that this will be Gonzaga’s most gifted roster in history. When, this week, I ran that proposition by Dan Dickau, the former Zag-turned-TV-radio-analyst, he mentioned the 2013 Kelly Olynyk-led club and the Jeremy Pargo-Josh Heytvelt-Micah Downs teams. And you can’t overlook the 2017 team that broke the glass ceiling to the Final Four, led by Nigel Williams-Goss.

“But I think what you see with this one, it’s being talked about by NBA people as being legitimately talented,” Dickau said. “In the past, diehard Zags might say, ‘There’s five or six pros on this team.’ Well, slow down, maybe there’s one.

“Now they’ve got (multiple) legitimate NBA pros on the team.”

It’s hardly a stretch to project that if Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie and Zach Norvell decide they’re NBA-ready next spring, they all get drafted. In itself, that would be a ringing endorsement for the level of talent on the 2018-19 team.

Now comes another graduate transfer, Geno Crandall of North Dakota, to test the exquisite chemistry that seems to be part of the program, like the Bulldog sculpture outside the arena doors.

Gonzaga has had astonishing success with transfers – Dickau and Williams-Goss became first-team All-Americans – and in recent years, has been active in the hunt for grad transfers. In 2014-15, Byron Wesley came from USC to average double figures and not only make his first NCAA tournament, but help the Zags to their first Elite Eight since 1999.

Then Jordan Matthews climbed aboard, fresh from Cal, for the Final Four run, and his three to thwart West Virginia in the 2017 Sweet 16 ranks among GU’s biggest shots in history.

Now Crandall (6-4) arrives to an unprecedentedly loaded roster. Inevitably, every shot he takes means that’s one less for Norvell, or Josh Perkins, or Hachimura.

At some places, that could be a problem. But we’re so conditioned to hoops as a shared enterprise at Gonzaga, we assume it won’t be.

“I don’t think so,” Dickau says. “The guys you mentioned are all team-first guys. You look at Zach – for a freshman, he came in and had a huge impact. But there were games he realized, you know what, the ball needs to go to Rui today, the ball needs to get to Tillie. The same could be said for Tillie.

“When you have such a talented roster and guys who buy in, they know, they understand it’s gonna come back to them at some point.”

It's all about doing homework. Dickau points not only to GU's process of vetting a grad transfer's reason for wanting out, but well before that, a read taken on every recruit's love of the game.

"Unfortunately, something not enough people look at these days is, does this person love to play basketball," Dickau says. "If somebody loves it, it's going to be easy to get them to improve as a player, to buy into the team mentality to be in the gym, and be happy with two minutes or 40 minutes."

If Gonzaga's pros-in-waiting were ever to get antsy about how many touches they’re getting, well, Dickau figures it should help that Few’s connection to the NBA has grown in recent years, with summer work with USA Basketball, most recently in late July. Along with Villanova’s Jay Wright and seven NBA assistants, Few worked a national-team mini-camp under San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.

Meanwhile, in Crandall, the Zags could have a piece that helps get them, and him, back to his hometown. The ’19 Final Four is in Minneapolis.

You could read his numbers at North Dakota as both impressive and a tad disquieting. Gonzaga, of course, knows first-hand the upside: Crandall gunned in 28 points last Dec. 16 and UND did everything but upend the Zags before succumbing in overtime on his way to averaging 16.6 points in ’17-18. But he was held in check by Nebraska and Creighton and had modest contributions of 13 and 12 points against Eastern Washington, a fellow Big Sky member.

Turnovers were a persistent issue. He had 105, against 114 assists last season, and the season before, 102 with 136 assists. There’s a suspicion that at times, he had to do too much.

Both seasons, he shot .503 and junior year, he kicked up his three-point percentage to .417.

Crandall saw both glory and gloom at North Dakota. Two seasons ago, he was part of a team that played in the NCAA tournament (he was second-leading scorer at 15.5 points). In his last season for the Fighting Hawks, they slogged to 20 losses.

He shot the ball a team-leading 356 times last season, but for comparison’s sake, Adam Morrison launched 617 in 2006 for the Zags. And Crandall had four teammates who logged 260-plus shots.

“He can make point guard reads and point guard decisions,” says Dickau, who has seen Crandall play several times. “He’s a good shooter and can shoot with range. He’s athletic enough to get into the paint. Defensively, as good as Josh (Perkins) and Silas (Melson) were at times, I think these two guys, Josh and Crandall, are going to have the same opportunity. They’re both long, physically strong and quick.”

Left unsaid is that Crandall is expected to match the Gonzaga unselfishness gene.





#zagsmbb #theslipperstillfits #unitedwezag #zagup

People Who Wowed This Post

Don't look now, but Arizona's peering up at Gonzaga

thread

On the eve of an NCAA round-of-32 matchup in San Diego in 2014, Gonzaga coach Mark Few took the liberty of calling his program and Arizona “kind of the two marquee teams out West, yo-yoing back and forth the last 10 years.”

If anything, on that afternoon, his words seemed to take some chutzpah. The Zags, after all, were in a semi-rut -- as their ruts go -- not having cracked the Sweet 16 in five years. Meanwhile, Arizona, in its fifth season under Sean Miller, had already crashed the Elite Eight and Sweet 16.

Programs like San Diego State and even Washington might have disputed Few’s calculus, which seemed even more questionable when Arizona, top-seeded, throttled the Zags 84-61, in a game that didn’t even feel that close.

Designations such as best in the West, though, tend to have a short shelf-life. Today, with the prospect that the Zags and Arizona could meet in the Maui Invitational in November, there’s little doubt that Gonzaga has surpassed the Wildcats, at least until Arizona sheds the turmoil lately surrounding the program.

There’s no question Arizona has more cachet over the broad sweep of history. It has a national title in 1997, and in the past 30 years, three other Final Fours. Gonzaga broke through to its first Final Four in 2017.

What’s happened to Arizona since that 2014 night against the Zags is almost description-defying. In 2014 and 2015, the Wildcats lost in skin-crawling fashion to very good Wisconsin teams led by Frank Kaminski, each game denying Arizona the Final Four.

In ’17, Arizona was on the precipice of another meeting with Gonzaga to earn the school’s first Final Four under Miller (and its first since 2001). But it coughed up an eight-point lead in the last three minutes and lost to Xavier -- of all programs, the one where Miller earned his coaching chops.

Then came 2017-18, and if you can recall a more bizarre, star-crossed, confounding season in college basketball than Arizona’s, raise your hand. It began with three losses in the Battle 4 Atlantis, with swingman Rawle Alkins on the bench with a broken foot.

Before then, thunder struck with Arizona’s implication in an FBI investigation. Late in a season in which the Wildcats rebounded to blow through the Pac-12, an ESPN report alleged that Miller had been recorded on an FBI wiretap having discussed paying primo prospect DeAndre Ayton $100,000 to come to Arizona.

Ex-Washington coach Lorenzo Romar stepped in for Miller at Oregon, and the world assumed that Miller had coached his last game at Arizona. Well, surprise. He cast a defiant demeanor at a press conference and returned to the bench, while a couple of touted, committed recruits said thanks, but no thanks.

All that doesn’t even address a long-running, on-off story of guard Allonzo Trier’s suspension for PED use.

Ayton stayed on the floor. Miller, after his brief interregnum, returned. And when the Wildcats roared through the Pac-12 tournament field, there was more than a little belief that they were ready for a deep run in the NCAA.

Right up until they got blistered by 13th-seeded Buffalo, 89-68. I said then that of all the upsets by low seeds in the history of the tournament, it was the most resounding and decisive. (That held up at least one night, until Maryland-Baltimore County upended No. 1 seed Virginia.)

Meanwhile, the engine purrs smoothly at Gonzaga, which has been to four straight Sweet 16s, and where controversy is a player deciding whether to turn pro or stay.

“The mix just wasn’t right,” said longtime Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen of the Wildcats. “They had all these talented bodies. The responsibilities overlapped. They weren’t hard workers, they weren’t tough. When Buffalo just crushed ‘em, it was embarrassing. Ayton would disappear at times. It just looked like he (Miller) should have got so much more out of them.”

I sought out Hansen, who knows as much about Arizona hoops -- and the lay of the land in the Pac-12 -- as anybody, both to take the temperature of the Wildcats and to get a read on personnel in advance of what could be a Maui matchup with Gonzaga. The Zags open with Illinois, and Arizona meets Iowa State in openers.

The Wildcats will be virtually starting anew, with their top five scorers having departed. The turnover is massive, but it could be that success will depend on the arc of heretofore bit players like Brandon Randolph (6-6) and Emmanuel Akot (6-7). They combined to average 5.5 points in 2017-18.

“Randolph was really highly rated, but he played like he was scared last year,” said Hansen. “The same with Akot. He looked great in person but played like a deer stuck in traffic. They’ve got to have him and Randolph (develop) or they’re not going to be any good.”

Chances are, if you’ve heard of any of the Wildcats, it’s because one of them is Brandon Williams, the guard Gonzaga tried desperately to land in the spring before he re-upped on a commitment to Arizona.

Hansen figures a reasonable guess at a starting lineup would be Williams; grad transfer guard Justin Coleman, who averaged 13.5 points at Samford after spending two years at Alabama; 6-9, 225-pound Pitt transfer Ryan Luther, who averaged 12.7 and 10.1 in a season truncated by a foot injury; Chase Jeter, the 6-10 transfer from Duke -- another player the Zags recruited on the bounce -- and probably Akot.

Either of necessity or design, there’s talk of Miller implementing a system of slashing wings and guard-heavy basketball, as opposed to the recent reliance on big men. If that takes place, it would contrast with Gonzaga’s expected strength up front.

The great unknown, at Arizona and elsewhere, is the status of the much-discussed investigation of college hoops by the FBI. Has there been a pullback of the probe, after widespread criticism that there was overreach, or is the FBI working methodically and quietly, with more revelations to come?

Yahoo Sports.com, which has been out front with the FBI-probe story, suggested strongly Monday that it’s more the latter than the former, writing, “Many coaches and administrators have equated the lack of headline news with a potential lack of action. That notion has been greeted with a chuckle for those experienced with federal cases.”

Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke, a former lieutenant to ex-Oregon and Washington State AD Bill Moos, “talked about it last week for the first time,” Hansen says. “He didn’t brush it off, but he sounded like, ‘No big deal.’ If he’s worried, he gave a different impression.”

Who knows? Maybe that’s the residue of Arizona’s strangest season, where you’re best to take it one day at a time.
#zagsmbb #wcchoops #theslipperstillfits #unitedwezag #zagup #pac12hoops

People Who Wowed This Post

Don't look now, but Arizona's peering up at Gonzaga

thread

On the eve of an NCAA round-of-32 matchup in San Diego in 2014, Gonzaga coach Mark Few took the liberty of calling his program and Arizona “kind of the two marquee teams out West, yo-yoing back and forth the last 10 years.”

If anything, on that afternoon, his words seemed to take some chutzpah. The Zags, after all, were in a semi-rut -- as their ruts go -- not having cracked the Sweet 16 in five years. Meanwhile, Arizona, in its fifth season under Sean Miller, had already crashed the Elite Eight and Sweet 16.

Programs like San Diego State and even Washington might have disputed Few’s calculus, which seemed even more questionable when Arizona, top-seeded, throttled the Zags 84-61, in a game that didn’t even feel that close.

Designations such as best in the West, though, tend to have a short shelf-life. Today, with the prospect that the Zags and Arizona could meet in the Maui Invitational in November, there’s little doubt that Gonzaga has surpassed the Wildcats, at least until Arizona sheds the turmoil lately surrounding the program.

There’s no question Arizona has more cachet over the broad sweep of history. It has a national title in 1997, and in the past 30 years, three other Final Fours. Gonzaga broke through to its first Final Four in 2017.

What’s happened to Arizona since that 2014 night against the Zags is almost description-defying. In 2014 and 2015, the Wildcats lost in skin-crawling fashion to very good Wisconsin teams led by Frank Kaminski, each game denying Arizona the Final Four.

In ’17, Arizona was on the precipice of another meeting with Gonzaga to earn the school’s first Final Four under Miller (and its first since 2001). But it coughed up an eight-point lead in the last three minutes and lost to Xavier -- of all programs, the one where Miller earned his coaching chops.

Then came 2017-18, and if you can recall a more bizarre, star-crossed, confounding season in college basketball than Arizona’s, raise your hand. It began with three losses in the Battle 4 Atlantis, with swingman Rawle Alkins on the bench with a broken foot.

Before then, thunder struck with Arizona’s implication in an FBI investigation. Late in a season in which the Wildcats rebounded to blow through the Pac-12, an ESPN report alleged that Miller had been recorded on an FBI wiretap having discussed paying primo prospect DeAndre Ayton $100,000 to come to Arizona.

Ex-Washington coach Lorenzo Romar stepped in for Miller at Oregon, and the world assumed that Miller had coached his last game at Arizona. Well, surprise. He cast a defiant demeanor at a press conference and returned to the bench, while a couple of touted, committed recruits said thanks, but no thanks.

All that doesn’t even address a long-running, on-off story of guard Allonzo Trier’s suspension for PED use.

Ayton stayed on the floor. Miller, after his brief interregnum, returned. And when the Wildcats roared through the Pac-12 tournament field, there was more than a little belief that they were ready for a deep run in the NCAA.

Right up until they got blistered by 13th-seeded Buffalo, 89-68. I said then that of all the upsets by low seeds in the history of the tournament, it was the most resounding and decisive. (That held up at least one night, until Maryland-Baltimore County upended No. 1 seed Virginia.)

Meanwhile, the engine purrs smoothly at Gonzaga, which has been to four straight Sweet 16s, and where controversy is a player deciding whether to turn pro or stay.

“The mix just wasn’t right,” said longtime Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen of the Wildcats. “They had all these talented bodies. The responsibilities overlapped. They weren’t hard workers, they weren’t tough. When Buffalo just crushed ‘em, it was embarrassing. Ayton would disappear at times. It just looked like he (Miller) should have got so much more out of them.”

I sought out Hansen, who knows as much about Arizona hoops -- and the lay of the land in the Pac-12 -- as anybody, both to take the temperature of the Wildcats and to get a read on personnel in advance of what could be a Maui matchup with Gonzaga. The Zags open with Illinois, and Arizona meets Iowa State in openers.

The Wildcats will be virtually starting anew, with their top five scorers having departed. The turnover is massive, but it could be that success will depend on the arc of heretofore bit players like Brandon Randolph (6-6) and Emmanuel Akot (6-7). They combined to average 5.5 points in 2017-18.

“Randolph was really highly rated, but he played like he was scared last year,” said Hansen. “The same with Akot. He looked great in person but played like a deer stuck in traffic. They’ve got to have him and Randolph (develop) or they’re not going to be any good.”

Chances are, if you’ve heard of any of the Wildcats, it’s because one of them is Brandon Williams, the guard Gonzaga tried desperately to land in the spring before he re-upped on a commitment to Arizona.

Hansen figures a reasonable guess at a starting lineup would be Williams; grad transfer guard Justin Coleman, who averaged 13.5 points at Samford after spending two years at Alabama; 6-9, 225-pound Pitt transfer Ryan Luther, who averaged 12.7 and 10.1 in a season truncated by a foot injury; Chase Jeter, the 6-10 transfer from Duke -- another player the Zags recruited on the bounce -- and probably Akot.

Either of necessity or design, there’s talk of Miller implementing a system of slashing wings and guard-heavy basketball, as opposed to the recent reliance on big men. If that takes place, it would contrast with Gonzaga’s expected strength up front.

The great unknown, at Arizona and elsewhere, is the status of the much-discussed investigation of college hoops by the FBI. Has there been a pullback of the probe, after widespread criticism that there was overreach, or is the FBI working methodically and quietly, with more revelations to come?

Yahoo Sports.com, which has been out front with the FBI-probe story, suggested strongly Monday that it’s more the latter than the former, writing, “Many coaches and administrators have equated the lack of headline news with a potential lack of action. That notion has been greeted with a chuckle for those experienced with federal cases.”

Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke, a former lieutenant to ex-Oregon and Washington State AD Bill Moos, “talked about it last week for the first time,” Hansen says. “He didn’t brush it off, but he sounded like, ‘No big deal.’ If he’s worried, he gave a different impression.”

Who knows? Maybe that’s the residue of Arizona’s strangest season, where you’re best to take it one day at a time.
#zagsmbb #wcchoops #theslipperstillfits #unitedwezag #zagup #pac12hoops

People Who Wowed This Post

Don't look now, but Arizona's peering up at Gonzaga

thread

On the eve of an NCAA round-of-32 matchup in San Diego in 2014, Gonzaga coach Mark Few took the liberty of calling his program and Arizona “kind of the two marquee teams out West, yo-yoing back and forth the last 10 years.”

If anything, on that afternoon, his words seemed to take some chutzpah. The Zags, after all, were in a semi-rut -- as their ruts go -- not having cracked the Sweet 16 in five years. Meanwhile, Arizona, in its fifth season under Sean Miller, had already crashed the Elite Eight and Sweet 16.

Programs like San Diego State and even Washington might have disputed Few’s calculus, which seemed even more questionable when Arizona, top-seeded, throttled the Zags 84-61, in a game that didn’t even feel that close.

Designations such as best in the West, though, tend to have a short shelf-life. Today, with the prospect that the Zags and Arizona could meet in the Maui Invitational in November, there’s little doubt that Gonzaga has surpassed the Wildcats, at least until Arizona sheds the turmoil lately surrounding the program.

There’s no question Arizona has more cachet over the broad sweep of history. It has a national title in 1997, and in the past 30 years, three other Final Fours. Gonzaga broke through to its first Final Four in 2017.

What’s happened to Arizona since that 2014 night against the Zags is almost description-defying. In 2014 and 2015, the Wildcats lost in skin-crawling fashion to very good Wisconsin teams led by Frank Kaminski, each game denying Arizona the Final Four.

In ’17, Arizona was on the precipice of another meeting with Gonzaga to earn the school’s first Final Four under Miller (and its first since 2001). But it coughed up an eight-point lead in the last three minutes and lost to Xavier -- of all programs, the one where Miller earned his coaching chops.

Then came 2017-18, and if you can recall a more bizarre, star-crossed, confounding season in college basketball than Arizona’s, raise your hand. It began with three losses in the Battle 4 Atlantis, with swingman Rawle Alkins on the bench with a broken foot.

Before then, thunder struck with Arizona’s implication in an FBI investigation. Late in a season in which the Wildcats rebounded to blow through the Pac-12, an ESPN report alleged that Miller had been recorded on an FBI wiretap having discussed paying primo prospect DeAndre Ayton $100,000 to come to Arizona.

Ex-Washington coach Lorenzo Romar stepped in for Miller at Oregon, and the world assumed that Miller had coached his last game at Arizona. Well, surprise. He cast a defiant demeanor at a press conference and returned to the bench, while a couple of touted, committed recruits said thanks, but no thanks.

All that doesn’t even address a long-running, on-off story of guard Allonzo Trier’s suspension for PED use.

Ayton stayed on the floor. Miller, after his brief interregnum, returned. And when the Wildcats roared through the Pac-12 tournament field, there was more than a little belief that they were ready for a deep run in the NCAA.

Right up until they got blistered by 13th-seeded Buffalo, 89-68. I said then that of all the upsets by low seeds in the history of the tournament, it was the most resounding and decisive. (That held up at least one night, until Maryland-Baltimore County upended No. 1 seed Virginia.)

Meanwhile, the engine purrs smoothly at Gonzaga, which has been to four straight Sweet 16s, and where controversy is a player deciding whether to turn pro or stay.

“The mix just wasn’t right,” said longtime Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen of the Wildcats. “They had all these talented bodies. The responsibilities overlapped. They weren’t hard workers, they weren’t tough. When Buffalo just crushed ‘em, it was embarrassing. Ayton would disappear at times. It just looked like he (Miller) should have got so much more out of them.”

I sought out Hansen, who knows as much about Arizona hoops -- and the lay of the land in the Pac-12 -- as anybody, both to take the temperature of the Wildcats and to get a read on personnel in advance of what could be a Maui matchup with Gonzaga. The Zags open with Illinois, and Arizona meets Iowa State in openers.

The Wildcats will be virtually starting anew, with their top five scorers having departed. The turnover is massive, but it could be that success will depend on the arc of heretofore bit players like Brandon Randolph (6-6) and Emmanuel Akot (6-7). They combined to average 5.5 points in 2017-18.

“Randolph was really highly rated, but he played like he was scared last year,” said Hansen. “The same with Akot. He looked great in person but played like a deer stuck in traffic. They’ve got to have him and Randolph (develop) or they’re not going to be any good.”

Chances are, if you’ve heard of any of the Wildcats, it’s because one of them is Brandon Williams, the guard Gonzaga tried desperately to land in the spring before he re-upped on a commitment to Arizona.

Hansen figures a reasonable guess at a starting lineup would be Williams; grad transfer guard Justin Coleman, who averaged 13.5 points at Samford after spending two years at Alabama; 6-9, 225-pound Pitt transfer Ryan Luther, who averaged 12.7 and 10.1 in a season truncated by a foot injury; Chase Jeter, the 6-10 transfer from Duke -- another player the Zags recruited on the bounce -- and probably Akot.

Either of necessity or design, there’s talk of Miller implementing a system of slashing wings and guard-heavy basketball, as opposed to the recent reliance on big men. If that takes place, it would contrast with Gonzaga’s expected strength up front.

The great unknown, at Arizona and elsewhere, is the status of the much-discussed investigation of college hoops by the FBI. Has there been a pullback of the probe, after widespread criticism that there was overreach, or is the FBI working methodically and quietly, with more revelations to come?

Yahoo Sports.com, which has been out front with the FBI-probe story, suggested strongly Monday that it’s more the latter than the former, writing, “Many coaches and administrators have equated the lack of headline news with a potential lack of action. That notion has been greeted with a chuckle for those experienced with federal cases.”

Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke, a former lieutenant to ex-Oregon and Washington State AD Bill Moos, “talked about it last week for the first time,” Hansen says. “He didn’t brush it off, but he sounded like, ‘No big deal.’ If he’s worried, he gave a different impression.”

Who knows? Maybe that’s the residue of Arizona’s strangest season, where you’re best to take it one day at a time.
#zagsmbb #wcchoops #theslipperstillfits #unitedwezag #zagup #pac12hoops

People Who Wowed This Post

Most improbable: Zags, Beavers, Ducks?

thread

Oregon State’s inspiring -- no, after a foul pop that couldn’t find a glove, make it mind-frying -- march to a national baseball championship got me to thinking: Of the athletic programs I was around in 45 years of sweating deadlines and jousting with editors at three Northwest newspapers, which are the most unlikely, improbable, you-gotta-be-kidding accomplishments by those teams?

It’s said that nothing about sports resonates quite like a season, or a succession of them, that comes out of the blue, and I’d buy that. If the ’95 Mariners, for instance, had surged to the AL West lead in April and held it most of the season . . . sure, their fans would have been appreciative, but it wouldn’t have attained nearly the cachet as it unspooled, with Ken Griffey Jr. sitting out a long stretch with a broken hand, eventually the rundown of the Angels with a whole cast of varying leading lights, and essentially the salvage of baseball in Seattle.

I came up with three sagas that deserve scrutiny. (Maybe there are more, but they’re obfuscated by too many IPAs in dimly lit dives.) My candidates are: Oregon State baseball, Gonzaga basketball and Oregon football.

If you want to take issue with my conclusions, feel free. This is a highly subjective exercise, and indeed, one that’s impossible to quantify, a side-by-side of apples and oranges. (But hey, that’s what we do.) Keep in mind, this isn’t a measurement of which program, which entity, has the greatest name recognition nationally, even internationally -- I’m pretty sure that’s Gonzaga -- but whose story is flat-out the most unbelievable.

1. Oregon State baseball. Here’s some backing for my argument, a 2005 piece I did while at the Seattle Times putting into perspective an achievement by OSU.

https://www.seattletimes.com/sports/osu-squad-ends-world-series-drought/

And that was when the Beavers were about to make their first trip to the College World Series since 1952. The story details how the program was very nearly axed in the 1970s, accounts I remember writing.

Starting with that ’05 appearance, OSU has been to the CWS six times, winning three. Even that, as a stand-alone percentage, is impressive.

LSU, amazingly, won six of these things from 1991 to 2009, but today, you’re safe in saying there’s no more dominant baseball program in the country than Oregon State. To me, given the historical perspective, that’s beyond comprehension.

Little-known fact, unless you’re a Beaver baseball savant: This didn’t come easily for Pat Casey, the University of Portland grad who has engineered the rise of the program. The first 10 years he was at OSU (1995-04), the Beavers were 16 games under .500 in conference play.

2. Gonzaga basketball.

So let the debate begin. The Zags have been to 20 straight NCAA tournaments after having spent much of the ‘80s and ‘90s as a mid-level WCC program. Since 1999, they’ve been to an NCAA championship game, two Elite Eights and seven Sweet 16s. In other words, in half those tournament appearances, they’ve made it to the Sweet 16 or better. That’s breathtaking.

If you don’t think trying to compare Beaver baseball to Zag basketball is like attempting to throw a four-seamer coated with Pennzoil, think about this: You’d figure the Zags’ staccato consistency ever since that 1999 Elite Eight run is a plus for this discussion, right? Well, you could also argue that OSU’s decade-long travails in Casey’s early years there only serve to accentuate how unlikely that ascent has been.

How much does weather play a part? Never mind that basketball is played indoors; a kid choosing between Gonzaga and Arizona might like the idea of wearing cargo shorts around campus in January in Tucson. But weather has a much more pronounced impact on baseball, and one of Casey’s crowning accomplishments is in proving (again and again) that you can win in a drippy, cool climate.

What about proximity to recruits? The Zags seem more disadvantaged here, as the nearest significant talent pool is 300 miles away in the Seattle area (and, as I’ve documented before, even that has been a tough nut to crack for Gonzaga). Casey has flourished with a lot of Northwest kids, and some major pieces from California, whereas Gonzaga has had to go international to remain a major force.

How about roster instability, per the rules of each sport? Gonzaga has to withstand NBA early entries, while OSU benefits from a certain three years in baseball if an athlete enrolls. But baseball coaches also have the challenge of high school signees blowing up as seniors and opting for pro baseball. As well -- and this is purely my guess -- the college athlete who’s a moderately successful junior and is drafted by baseball is probably more likely to sign a pro contract than the basketball player of the same ability level.

Another imponderable: How competitive is the landscape around each sport? College basketball has more contenders for national recognition; witness Loyola of Chicago and countless others in recent years. So Gonzaga has to weather a serious storm in the 2018 NCAA tournament against UNC-Greensboro, whereas the Beavers have a relatively comfortable time with home games through the super regional.

And what about that playoff format? Baseball allows for some breathing room. Super regionals are best two of three, as are the College World Series finals, climaxing a double-elimination event. You hit a rough patch in an NCAA-tournament first-round game in March and you’re liable to be gonzo.

My bottom line: OSU baseball by a nose.

3. Oregon football.

You might raise eyebrows at this, but not if you were around in the 1970s, when Autzen Stadium was a dreary mausoleum sometimes inhabited by 15,000 people with nothing better to do. The Ducks were awful, and the facilities, other than the stadium itself, were sub-par. Coaches would stage position meetings in the runways and draw Xs and Os not on a whiteboard, but on the concrete walls of the tunnel -- latter-day cavemen.

So desperate was the overall picture that there was more than scattered opinion on the West Coast that Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State ought to be jettisoned from the Pac-8 Conference.

There was always extensive, chicken-and-egg debate over how much the wet weather impacted ticket sales at Oregon, and thus revenue, and thus resources. So much that there was an idea advanced that local lumber barons might finance a dome on Autzen Stadium. I’m not making this up.

Well, they never domed Autzen. But Oregon did have a succession of good football coaches, from Rich Brooks to Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly. It had continuity on its staff, and it capitalized on two New Year’s Day bowl appearances in the mid-‘90s.

And that was before Phil Knight got involved. There’s no minimizing Knight’s impact, but it came after things had gotten rolling, and he took it to a new level. But he didn’t ignite it.

Over time, a lot of time, Oregon got good. And we haven’t seen the likes of that 0-0 tie in 1983 with Oregon State since (when it was raining hard, with no dome over Autzen).

In all three instances, the bad old days are over. Or at least, distant memories.
#zagsmbb #wcchoops #theslipperstillfits #unitedwezag #zagup #OregonState #BeaverNation

People Who Wowed This Post

Zags look loaded, as is the non-league schedule

thread
With news of Gonzaga’s 2018-19 basketball schedule dribbling in, I got to wondering how it might stack up against some of the Zags’ previous schedules.

As you might guess, it’s a highly subjective exercise in which it’s difficult to produce a wrong answer.

To date, we know Gonzaga is due to host Texas A&M and Washington, go on the road to Creighton and North Carolina and meet Tennessee in Phoenix at the Jerry Colangelo Classic. (That’s such a hot ticket, Bryan Colangelo, Jerry’s son, is already tweeting about it.) And the Zags go to the Maui Invitational, which is stacked with likely preseason top-10 squads Auburn and Duke.

Scheduling is tricky business, and so is judging a strength of schedule in the preseason. Scheduling intent doesn’t always match up with scheduling reality. The top-25 team you thought you were getting can morph into a top-five outfit before it’s over, or it can flop and serve to sabotage your metrics.

(Veteran Zag followers might remember 2001-02, which I think of as the Season of Lost Innocence. Fresno State and St. Joseph’s were supposed to be of Final Four ilk, but they turned out to be disappointments, which led to Gonzaga drawing a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament; which led to playing Wyoming at altitude in Albuquerque; which led to one of only three first-round losses in the 20-year streak of NCAA appearances.)

I decided to look at a simple -- and admittedly suspect -- metric: How many times the Zags have played Power Five conference teams over the last decade. That’s fraught with a lot of disclaimers; not all Power Five teams are created equal, for one. Second, unlike football, even a reference to “Power Five” is dubious, since surely the Big East can lay claim to being part of a Power Six, with Villanova, Xavier, Creighton, et. al. Nobody would suggest a visit to Creighton isn't a stern test.

And finally, we don’t know for sure that Gonzaga is done scheduling such teams for 2018-19 (although my guess is that it is).

Enough preamble. Right now, Gonzaga has four opponents from Power Five leagues, with the possibility that could rise to six or seven with yet-undetermined Maui opponents.

I was a little surprised to discover that twice in the last decade, Gonzaga has faced eight Power Five opponents in the regular season -- and in 2008, actually did that, plus Connecticut, Utah (which was still in the Mountain West) and Memphis. It also faced eight Power Fives in the regular season in 2012-13, when it made its first foray to a No. 1 ranking.

What does appear to be possible about the 2018-19 schedule is that it could be unprecedented at GU for high-end opponents. Tennessee and North Carolina are top-shelf, and the prospect is also there for one or two more likely top-10 opponents in Maui in Auburn and Duke. Combine all that with Washington -- being mentioned by some as a contender to win the Pac-12 -- and there’s a lot of heavy lifting.

All this discussion is an excuse to take a closer look at what awaits the Zags with their known opponents to date. Since not all dates are firmed up, we’ll do it alphabetically:

Creighton -- Blue Jays went to the round of 32 in March, but might be due for a step back after losing 2,000-point collegiate scorer Marcus Foster, plus Khyri Thomas, a 15.1-ppg scorer and Big East defender of the year who is a popular pick to be a first-round NBA draftee. I could see this being a crusade game for Creighton, which regularly puts 17,000 into the CenturyLink Center in Omaha and was No. 5 nationally in attendance. In fact, this from Tom Shatel, columnist for the Omaha World-Herald: “The Gonzaga game will be probably the second-biggest non-con home game besides Kentucky in the 2009 NIT” since Creighton moved into the arena in 2003.

North Carolina (Dec. 15) -- Tar Heels, blasted out of the NCAA tournament in the second round, 86-65, by Texas A&M, got a big boost when Luke Maye decided to pull back from an NBA dalliance, returning his 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds. Guards Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson are also back. Leading scorer Joel Berry II and top assist-maker Theo Pinson are gone, but two mega-recruits are incoming: 6-3 guard Coby White and 6-7 forward Nassir Little, who was MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game. Not only will White and Little have had a month to acclimate to college hoops, the timing will be challenging for GU, which will play Tennessee six days earlier, go through finals week and face a cross-country flight.

Tennessee (Dec. 9) -- Mark Few and Vols coach Rick Barnes have had a long friendship, a good thing for Gonzaga, which has won most of their meetings -- including the annual, closed preseason scrimmages they staged when Barnes was at Texas. When forward Admiral Schofield (13.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg) decided to pass on the NBA, it meant the Vols will return their top six scorers from a team that went 26-9 and finished No. 6 in adjusted defense in KenPom rankings. Grant Williams (15.2 ppg) was SEC player of the year, and the Vols were unlucky not to survive Loyola of Chicago in the NCAA round of 32, as Clayton Custer hit a late, unlikely rim-clanger that fell for the Ramblers.

Texas A&M (Nov. 15) -- If form holds, this would be Gonzaga’s only test of significance before Maui, and the Aggies’ roster should be thinned by the departure of its vaunted front line of Robert Williams, Tyler Davis and D.J Hogg. Return of guard Admon Gilder (12.3 ppg) means the backcourt is intact, with point guard T.J. Starks. Aggies recruited a couple of JC guards, and they get eligible 6-9, 240-pound transfer Josh Nebo, who spent two years at St. Francis of Pennsylvania. You should also know that, according to the A&M website, Nebo’s father is named Shady.

Washington -- Huskies are a bit of an anomaly. Their matchup zone defense in the first year of the Mike Hopkins regime got a lot of acclaim, yet they allowed 44.7 percent shooting. And the offense was a mere 140th by KenPom. They had a decidedly negative assist-turnover ratio, which could augur time for incoming freshman point guard Elijah Hardy. Washington has its top seven scorers back, including Jaylen Nowell (16 ppg) and big man Noah Dickerson, who turned back from a look at the NBA after a terrific season. Hopkins deserved major credit for his debut 21-13 season, but it’s also true that it looked a lot better against Lorenzo Romar’s 9-22 outfit that thoroughly underachieved the year before. Huskies have gotten rocked 11 of the past 12 by the Zags, and they might look first to their defense; Gonzaga has shot 50 percent or better in the last eight meetings.

Maui Invitational (Nov. 19-21) -- Also features Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Illinois, Iowa State, San Diego State and Xavier . . . Arizona’s bizarre season ended with Sean Miller still in place after the program was implicated in the FBI investigation, the year capped by a first-round, blowout loss to 13th-seeded Buffalo in the NCAAs . . . UA’s top five scorers are gone, and the nucleus probably will be Duke transfer Chase Jeter, point guard Brandon Williams and fellow freshmen Devonaire Doutrive (6-5) and 6-7 Belgian Omar Thielemans . . . Duke likewise loses its nucleus but nabbed the top-three-rated recruits nationally -- 6-6 Zion Williamson, 6-7 R.J. Barrett and 6-7 Cameron Reddish . . . Auburn just shrugged at the FBI probe and extended Bruce Pearl’s contract, and competitively, the Tigers got a boost with the return of Bryce Brown, Jared Harper and 6-11 Austin Wiley, all of whom had sniffed around at the draft, leading an Al.com columnist to write, “Be afraid, SEC. Be very afraid.” . . . San Diego State, upset winner over GU last December, has its 2-3-4 scorers back, topped by USF transfer guard Devon Watson. It also gets back, after a pro dalliance, 6-10 Jalen McDaniels of Federal Way . . . Brad Underwood will be in his second year at Illinois, where he had a 14-18 opener . . . Travis Steele takes over for Chris Mack as Xavier coach and has a team ranked No. 22 by Sporting News . . . Guard Lindell Wigginton (16.7 ppg) turned his back on the NBA to return to Iowa State, which went winless on the road in going 13-18 . . . with Auburn, Duke and Gonzaga prospectively the top three in Maui, the intrigue will be which club gets the side of the bracket without the other two -- and that’s probably Duke . . . Maui, a mere 10 days into the season, could be a better time to face a young Blue Devils team than later.
#zagsmbb #wcchoops #theslipperstillfits #unitedwezag #zagup

People Who Wowed This Post

  • If you are a bloguru member, please login.
    Login
  • If you are not a bloguru member, you may request a free account here:
    Request Account