For now, the hype is on hold.
Gonzaga, coming off a 27-7 season and a 14th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, holds its first official team practice today. The Bulldogs return most of their key players and add a couple of intriguing newcomers that have caught the attention of so-called college basketball gurus.
Guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. return with the experience of 58 combined starts and nearly 2,000 court minutes logged as freshmen. Senior forward Elias Harris, who joined Pangos as an All-WCC selection, averaged 13.1 points and a team-high 8.5 rebounds last season.
Those three appear to be locks for the starting lineup. Polish import Przemek Karnowski, 7-foot-1 and 305 pounds, is a candidate to replace Robert Sacre, now earning paychecks with the Los Angeles Lakers. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla noted that Karnowski is in the mold of Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol.
Other front-court options are 6-9 Sam Dower, who averaged 8.3 points last season, and 7-foot junior Kelly Olynyk, who was in the rotation for two years prior to redshirting in 2011-12.
Gonzaga has several options at “3,” or small forward. Harris, primarily a “4,” has some experience at the position. Guy Landry Edi (15 starts last season), Mike Hart (18), redshirt freshman Kyle Dranginis and 6-7 Memphis transfer Drew Barham should be in the mix.
It’s become an annual rite of autumn, but the hype surrounding the Zags got an early start this season. Two of CBSsports.com’s five college basketball writers projected Gonzaga to make the Final Four. Bleacherreport.com offered national championship odds for every team in its preseason Top 25. No. 24 GU is 65 to 1. Top-ranked Indiana is 10 to 1.
The Bulldogs have more immediate concerns as they begin identifying starters and a rotation leading up to an exhibition game against Northwest Nazarene on Oct. 27 and the regular-season opener versus Southern Utah on Nov. 9.
GU’s nonconference slate includes three games at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., and dates with West Virginia, Washington State, Illinois, Kansas State, Baylor, Butler and Oklahoma State. The Bulldogs open WCC play at Pepperdine on Jan. 3. GU’s conference home opener is Jan. 10 versus Saint Mary’s, which snapped the Bulldogs’ 11-year run of WCC titles last season.
The biggest priority for Washington State’s men’s basketball team as it begins practices today?
“Making sure the guys understand we can be successful and that we have some talented players on the floor,” said fourth-year coach Ken Bone.
The Cougars return their leading scorer, senior forward Brock Motum, who scored 18 points per game last season while winning the Pac-12 scoring title.
But behind him, there is little in terms of proven talent. WSU hopes sophomore DaVonte Lacy will build on a promising freshman season, and Kansas transfer Royce Woolridge, who redshirted last season, figures to start alongside Lacy in WSU’s backcourt.
Woolridge, Lacy and senior Mike Ladd are now the Cougars’ most experienced guards after the dismissal of senior point guard Reggie Moore. Bone also mentioned walk-on redshirt freshman Dominic Ballard as a possibility to help with point guard depth.
Junior forward D.J. Shelton may see an increased role this season as WSU’s most experienced frontcourt player besides Motum, and freshmen Richard “Junior” Longrus and Brett Boese should figure into the rotation, as well.
“I’ve been in this situation before over the years where you’re kind of looked at as an underdog and you don’t have this and you don’t have that,” Bone said. “But a lot of times those are the teams that pull together as a team and maximize their talent.”
Eastern Washington head coach Jim Hayford hopes to stage a Midnight Madness-type event next year, but the Eagles will get the ball rolling this season with a closed practice at 5 p.m. today at Reese Court.
The Eagles will play defending Division II national champion Western Washington in a closed-door scrimmage on Oct. 19, then play an exhibition game Nov. 4 against Concordia (Ore.).
The regular season opens Nov. 10 at Washington State. The first home game is Nov. 30 against Cal State Fullerton.
The Eagles, 8-8 in the Big Sky Conference and 15-17 overall last year, return two starters – forward Collin Chiverton and guard Jeffrey Forbes – plus four letterwinners. The team also includes three players who redshirted last season, plus six newcomers.
The Eagles’ 15 wins last year were the most in seven years.
Don Verlin would no doubt like the focus to be on the court as he starts his fifth season as Idaho. Instead, the major story line for the Vandals is the start of preseason practice with their best player suspended indefinitely.
Senior center Kyle Barone, the Vandals’ top returning scorer and most experienced player, was arrested on the Washington State campus early Sunday morning for driving under the influence, according to the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.
Barone was arraigned on a DUI charge in Whitman County District Court Monday, the paper reported – the same day Barone was suspended from participating in all team activities.
With Barone out of the picture, the Vandals will look to junior Stephen Madison, sophomore Connor Hill and two senior guards – Mike McChristian and Mansa Habeeb – for offense.
Production in the low post is also a question mark without Barone, the team’s only proven presence in the paint. Wendell Faines, newcomer Marcus Bell and Joe Kammerer are likely to see the most action, while freshman Ty Egbert could also be in the mix.
The Vandals will hold a public scrimmage on Oct. 19 at Memorial Gym before their first exhibition game, Oct. 27 vs. Seattle Pacific. Idaho’s season opens Nov. 9 at home against Wright State.