The early-entry deadline expired earlier this week and the outlook for Gonzaga, which had as much at stake as any program in the country, barely changed.
The Zags went 2-1, losing All-American forward Filip Petrusev, but welcoming back senior wing Corey Kispert and junior forward Joel Ayayi. COVID-19 delayed the NBA draft withdrawal deadline from June 3 to Monday.
CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish kept Gonzaga at No. 1, as he has in every one of his Top 25 and 1 rankings since mid March, shortly after the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Parrish’s colleague Jon Rothstein on Tuesday ranked Gonzaga No. 6, the same spot as his March 16th rankings.
“So even though Gonzaga could’ve theoretically been better if Petrusev had withdrawn from the NBA draft like teammates Kispert and Ayayi, (coach) Mark Few still has enough pieces to guide the Zags to their first national title,” Parrish wrote.
Petrusev’s departure for Mega Bemax in his native Serbia prompted The Athletic’s Seth Davis to drop Gonzaga from first to second in his preseason top 25. “Other than that (Petrusev leaving), Gonzaga has had a very good offseason,” Davis wrote.
Oddsmakers still consider Gonzaga one of the main contenders for the national championship. BetOnLine lists Gonzaga at 9/1, fourth behind Villanova at 7/1, Iowa at 15/2 and Baylor at 8/1. Virginia is fifth at 10/1. Gonzaga and Virginia shared the favorite’s role at 9/1 on March 16.
Offseason player movement was reflected in the odds in both directions. Iowa (from 50/1 to 15/2), Illinois (50/1 to 16/1), Villanova (28/1 to 7/1) and Baylor (16/1 to 8/1) made major surges. UCLA went from off the board to 30/1. Texas, scheduled to entertain Gonzaga on Nov. 13, slipped from 25/1 to 66/1.
The Zags remain prominent in the national picture, despite the exit of Petrusev and the graduation of Killian Tillie, Admon Gilder and Ryan Woolridge. Petrusev was GU’s leading scorer with Tillie third, Gilder fourth and Woolridge sixth.
Petrusev was the team’s top rebounder and Tillie was third. Woolridge was first in steals and assists. Gilder was second in made free throws and made 3-pointers and third in steals.
Kispert and Ayayi anchor a strong group of returners, bolstered by the addition of Southern Illinois grad transfer Aaron Cook and freshmen Jalen Suggs, Dominick Harris and Julian Strawther.
The trend of early entrants who stayed deeper in the pre-draft process was to return to school, despite uncertainties created by COVID-19.
Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy listed Gonzaga as a “winner and loser, but mostly winner” following Monday’s deadline.
“The Bulldogs will be the projected No. 1 team for many even without All-American big man Petrusev, but it would be unfairly dismissive to declare in advance they’ll be better without him.” DeCourcy wrote. “But, with wing Kispert and dynamic guard Ayayi returning from the draft, with a year’s experience in their roles – Ayayi could develop into the next Zags star – this really could be a better Gonzaga team.”
Stadium’s Jeff Goodman’s latest top five: No. 1 Baylor, No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Gonzaga, No. 4 Iowa and No. 5. Kansas.
“Veteran teams should have a major advantage this season,” Goodman wrote, “and that bodes well for Baylor, Villanova and Gonzaga – which are really 1A, 1B and 1C in my rankings.”
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