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Five keys to success for Gonzaga men’s basketball team

Gonzaga looks to F Sam Dower Jr. to step up this season. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Gonzaga looks to F Sam Dower Jr. to step up this season. (Tyler Tjomsland)

1 Big deal. The loss of Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris to the NBA opens up major minutes inside for Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower Jr. It’s doubtful the left-handed tandem will replace the 32 points and nearly 15 rebounds per game of Olynyk and Harris, but they need to be a presence inside and provide balance to GU’s offensive attack. Both are in the best shape of their careers, both are capable scorers and both should eventually have an opportunity in the NBA. They should form one of the better front-court duos in the West.

2 Defense and rebounding. A year ago the Bulldogs relied on Olynyk, Harris and Mike Hart, particularly on the glass, and they had the benefit of a deeper bench if front-court players got into foul trouble. Karnowski and Dower will be challenged to defend without fouling and be strong on the boards while logging extended playing time. Rebounding could become a bigger concern when Gonzaga goes with just one big and an undersized ‘4’, likely Drew Barham or possibly Kyle Dranginis. Guards and wings will have to help out on the boards.

3 New-look offense. Last year Gonzaga’s offense ran through Olynyk and Harris. The Zags still have scoring options with Karnowski and Dower, but there will be a new look as guards take on a bigger role, there’s potential for more scoring punch at the ‘3’ and the Bulldogs look to get out more in transition. Gonzaga’s lack of interior depth means it will often utilize a one-post, four-guard lineup with all four guards being 3-point threats – and Dower has range to the 3-point line. Strong perimeter shooting could open up room for GU’s inside players.

4 The Coleman factor. Providence transfer Gerard Coleman brings unique qualities to Gonzaga’s program with his slashing, open-court game. He’s yet to face quality competition in a GU uniform but he was able to operate in the rugged Big East, averaging double-figures points in his freshman (10.3) and sophomore (13.2) seasons. He should thrive in transition with his ability to finish and pass. Another factor that could help the wiry, 6-foot-4 Coleman secure additional playing time: He averaged 5 rebounds per game as a sophomore.

5 Stepping up. The exit of Olynyk/ Harris creates an opportunity for someone else to step up. The most likely candidates are Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. on the guard line and Dower in the front court. Pangos and Bell are entering their third season and both have become better at creating their own shots. Both are solid 3-point shooters and they’ll be asked to hunt more shots. Dower has a nice shooting touch inside and out, and he’s capable of 25-point nights. He wasn’t on the preseason All-WCC team, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he emerged as a candidate for WCC player of the year.