It’s been a while since Gonzaga navigated through a preseason without encountering some turbulence.
Two years ago it was forward Elias Harris battling a shoulder injury, followed by an early season issue with his Achilles tendon. Last year it was Guy Landry Edi’s eight-game suspension handed down by the NCAA. This season, junior forward Kelly Olynyk will sit out the first three games for a violation of the Student Code of Conduct.
The difference is this go-around the Bulldogs seem better equipped to deal with the absence of a key player.
“Our starting five and our second five, it doesn’t really drop,” Harris said. “I feel like it’s consistent and that’s going to be really helpful during the season.”
The Bulldogs have a proven backcourt with sophomore starters Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. They return wings Mike Hart and Edi and their 33 combined starts.
“We’ve had a great run of guards at Gonzaga and certainly there’s a great group in the WCC right now,” GU head coach Mark Few said. “I love the ones I have in Gary and Kevin. They had remarkable years for freshmen and David (Stockton) is as tough as they come and has a great feel for the game.”
Gonzaga has frontcourt talent in Harris, Olynyk, Sam Dower and newcomer Przemek Karnowski. Harris has been All-WCC three times. Dower was named to the All-WCC preseason team. Olynyk has been praised by the coaching staff for improvements he made during last year’s redshirt season.
One recruiting analyst touted Karnowski, a 7-foot-1 freshman from Poland, as a “McDonald’s All-American-type recruit.”
“Przemek is going to be a very good player,” Few said. “He can pass very well, nice touch, his feet are good and he runs the floor. But we have three that play at or around the hoop in Elias, Sam and Kelly that are very, very good players. ‘Shem’ has hit work cut out for him to get time with those other guys.”
Edi and Hart have plenty of company at the small forward position. Kyle Dranginis, coming off a redshirt season, “does a lot of things well,” Few said. Drew Barham, a 6-7 transfer from Memphis, is considered a quality perimeter shooter.
The Bulldogs will need their strength in numbers to deal with another challenging nonconference schedule. The Bulldogs have three games, beginning with Clemson on Thanksgiving Day, at the Old Spice Classic. GU also faces West Virginia, Washington State, Illinois, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Butler.
December is particularly rugged with WSU, Illinois, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State packed into a six-game stretch.
“I listen really closely on Selection Sunday to the message they try to send with the seeding and even the selection,” Few said. “It comes down to, we all have nonconference games and what do you do with those nonconference games? You can control that. It seems to me the committee keeps telling us to go out and play other NCAA tournament teams.”
Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU made the NCAA tournament last season and those three are expected to contend for the WCC title this winter. Gonzaga was tabbed the favorite, according to the coaches’ preseason poll, followed by BYU and Saint Mary’s, which ended GU’s 11-year streak of WCC titles last season.
“I’m here to tell you if Saint Mary’s is third in our league we’re somewhere between the ACC and Big East as far as the toughest conference in the country,” Loyola Marymount coach Max Good said. “I can assure you Saint Mary’s is a much better team than to be picked third.”