As hard as it is to believe, college basketball tips off in just a few days - and to get you ready for the season, Aaron Torres Online will be giving you 30 previews in the coming 30 days to get you ready for the start of the year, written by the Torres Online team.
In case you missed it, we've already previewed the Memphis Tigers, then hit the Illinois Fighting Illini, Wyoming Cowboys, Xavier Musketeers, Michigan State Spartans, Alabama Crimson Tide, Arizona Wildcats, San Diego State Aztecs, UConn Huskies, Texas Longhorns, Auburn Tigers,
Today, we look at the Gonzaga Bulldogs, which one big in the regular season last year, but came up short in the Big Dance. Is this finally the year for Mark Few? We take a look.
How it Went Down in 2021-2022
The 2022 Gonzaga team wasn’t as dominant as the previous year’s team, but they were still great throughout the year.
They lost key contributors off their 2021 national runner up in Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, and Joel Ayayi to the NBA. They returned Drew Timme and Andrew Nembhard, and brought in freshmen Chet Holmgren, Nolan Hickman, Hunter Sallis, and a transfer in Rasir Bolton from Iowa State.
Last season got off to a bit of a rocky start for Gonzaga, with Mark Few getting a DUI before the season even began. That led to a suspension of three games for Few, which included exhibition games, which is why he was allowed back for the game against Texas.
Gonzaga won its first six games of the year, which included blow out wins against both Texas and UCLA, but they then lost to both Duke and Alabama in a span of three games. They then didn’t lose again till their last game of the regular season when Saint Mary’s beat them. The Bulldogs still finished No. 1 in the WCC and easily won the WCC tournament.
After an easy win against Georgia State in the First Round, the Zags faced a challenge in the second round against Memphis, where they barely survived, trailing at halftime and winning by just fourpoints. After that game, questions about Gonzaga’s athleticism started to plague them, and it seemed like it came crashing down against Arkansas in the Sweet 16. The Razorbacks beat the Zags by six and advanced to face Duke in the next round.
If you’re a Gonzaga fan the frustration and narrative continued that the Bulldogs can’t win a championship. The doubters are still there for the Bulldogs, and they might not go away until they win a championship.
The good news is they once again have a championship team this year. The question now is if they can get there.
What to Expect in 2022-2023
Key Returnees: Drew Timme, Rasir Bolton, Julian Strawther, Nolan Hickman, Hunter Sallis, Anton Watson
Key Losses: Andrew Nembhard, Chet Holmgren
Key Transfers: Efton Reid (LSU), Malachi Smith (Chattanooga)
Key Recruits: Braden Huff
National Title Odds via Betfred Sportsbook: +800
Gonzaga lost only two of their top eight scorers from last year, and with that type of returning production you don’t need a ton of newcomers to come into the program. It’s crazy to think that Gonzaga only added two transfers of note and will only have one freshman on their roster this season too.
But those losses do still hurt.
The first, is of course, the No. 2 pick in the draft, Chet Holmgren. One of the most versatile players in the sport, Holmgren averaged 14 points, 10 rebounds, two assists a game, and four blocks a game, while also averaging 61 percent from the field overall. Holmgren was selected No. 2 overall in the 2022 NBA Draft and rightfully so.
Another important loss that isn’t going to gain as much attention than Holmgren is the loss of Andrew Nembhard. Nembhard averaged 12 points, three rebounds, and six assists last year, and was just a great overall college point guard, especially down the stretch of last season. NBA teams took notice, and he was drafted No. 31 in the 2022 NBA Draft to the Indiana Pacers.
Despite those two big losses, there’s an argument to be made that Gonzaga could be the deepest team in all of college basketball. The talent was there before the additions of Efton Reid, Malachi Smith, and Braden Huff, but with them this team seems almost unstoppable.
The starting point guard is now going to be Nolan Hickman, who showed a lot to like off the bench last year but will now have the keys to the offense. His career-high in points is 16 and his career-high in assists is four which he did twice last year. Expect those numbers to go up with the starting job. Rasir Bolton will join him in the backcourt after starting last year too. He averaged 11 points a game and an unheard of 46% from 3-point range. These two should have a lock on the backcourt this year for the Zags. The rest of the backcourt will also be good with Hunter Sallis and Malachi Smith coming off the bench. Sallis is someone to watch especially on the defensive end of the floor, while Smith could be Gonzaga’s sixth man after he averaged 19.9 points a game last year at Chattanooga.
The rest of the wing will be filled by Julian Strawther who decided to come back for one more year. He averaged 11.8 points a game and shot 36.5 percent from 3-point range. Expect him to take a massive leap before the season is over and to be one of Gonzaga’s go-to scorers. Remember, he scored 20 points in the Zags early season game against Duke last year - showing off his unlimited potential.
Power forward is going to go back to Anton Watson after he was sent to the bench in favor of Chet Holmgren. He’s proven to be a very efficient scorer down low, but the defense will take a step-back due to Holmgren not being there down low. Drew Timme rounds out the Gonzaga lineup as the clear-cut best player for the Zags. There’s nothing that Timme doesn’t do for the Bulldogs and if they win it all, Timme will be the biggest reason why.
And if the Zags want to go really big, they can play Timme at the four and LSU transfer, and former McDonald's All-American, Efton Reid at the five-spot.
Basically, the pieces are here to play pretty much however the Zags desire, and uniquely match up with any team they play.
Speaking of which...
Gonzaga has their usual loaded non-conference schedule this season, and it starts nearly right away: Their second game of the season will be against Michigan State on an aircraft carrier in San Diego. The Spartans aren't their usual top-of-the-sport self, but could be dangerous.
From there, a brutal two-game gauntlet, traveling to Texas to open up the school's new arena, before hosting Kentucky in Spokane. The Longhorns are coming off an exhibition smackdown of Arkansas last weekend, while the Wildcats are the preseason SEC favorites. It remains to be seen if reigning National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe will be available for that one, although all indications are that he will be.
After that, they go and play in the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament where, if all goes to plan, the game that everyone will want to see is the championship game against Duke in the final.
Even after that things don't get any easier, as the Zags will take on preseason Top 10 team Baylor in Sioux Falls, and then travel to Birmingham for a rematch with an Alabama team which beat them last year. That game is already sold out, and like everywhere the Zags go, should have a wild atmosphere.
Finally, there is conference play, where the only real land mine seems to be Saint Mary’s on the road. The WCC took a step back after a historic NCAA Tournament for the conference last year, so the Zags need to impress early-on once again. If all goes well, then the Zags will still be able to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament even with a loss or two in the non-conference.
What to Expect in 2022-2023
There’s been almost no program in the country that’s been more dominant than Gonzaga has in recent years, and this year should be no different. The Zags return most of their team from last year but did lose two major key pieces to the NBA.
The fact that they can lose those pieces and are still the favorite in the Betfred Sportsbook to win it all, shows where the Zags are at as a program.
The schedule is difficult with Michigan State, Texas, Kentucky, potentially Duke, Baylor, and Alabama all being littered across the non-conference schedule, but Gonzaga might be favored in every single one of those games too.
What’s going to potentially hurt the Bulldogs is the WCC taking a step-back from a talent level.
Saint Mary’s is a decent program, but this year might find themselves on the bubble. The Zags are going to be judged on if they can win a championship this year, and this team is and should be favored to win it all this year.
At least on paper, Gonzaga seems like they should again be one of the better teams in the country.
Catch up on the other teams in our countdown