Kansas players hadn’t finished clipping down nets in New Orleans when ESPN’s way-too-early Top 25 projections went live online and began to circulate through social media, generating chatter about which teams have the best chance to climb ladders next year in Houston.
Forecasting the college basketball landscape six months from now is as difficult as it’s been. Equally challenging is predicting what Gonzaga’s roster will look like when the Bulldogs regroup for the 2022-23 season after bowing out of this year’s NCAA Tournament with a Sweet 16 loss to Arkansas.
All five starters are eligible to return to Gonzaga next season, but it’s possible the Bulldogs return just one or two members of a group that helped secure a 28-4 record, spent nine weeks on top of the Associated Press Top 25 poll and led the program to its seventh straight Sweet 16.
Without knowing whether All-American forward Drew Timme will return for his senior year, whether one of GU’s two starting guards, Andrew Nembhard or Rasir Bolton, will return for their fifth college basketball season or whether the Bulldogs will land an impact player via the transfer portal, ESPN and other national outlets took a stab at guessing where the Zags and other programs may find themselves in 2022-23.
Not as bullish on Gonzaga’s chances of contending for the title, or Timme’s chances of returning to Spokane, ESPN.com’s Jeff Borzello projected the Bulldogs at No. 12.
“(Timme) is projected as a late second-round (NBA) pick, but he could also return and look to set all kinds of records in Spokane,” Borzello said. “If he leaves, Mark Few will have his least proven roster in a long time.”
Borzello’s projected lineup features four new starters with sophomore guards Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis filling the backcourt spots, Julian Strawther at wing and Anton Watson and Ben Gregg in the frontcourt.
“Where does (Mark) Few turn if Timme doesn’t return?” Borzello wrote. “He will likely pursue a number of transfer bigs.”
ESPN’s rankings are topped by the very Arkansas team that knocked the Zags out of the postseason approximately three weeks ago. Borzello boosted the Razorbacks to No. 1 when five-star guard and priority Gonzaga target Anthony Black committed to Eric Musselman’s program, giving Arkansas its third McDonald’s All-American.
Rounding out ESPN’s Top 10 are No. 2 Houston, No. 3 UCLA, No. 4 Kansas, No. 5 North Carolina, No. 6 Duke, No. 7 Kentucky, No. 8 Baylor No. 9 Creighton and No. 10 Arizona.
Timme’s return, of course, could catapult the Bulldogs back into the title conversation. Sports Illustrated published its way-too-early rankings under the impression the Texas native would be back for year No. 4, sliding Gonzaga in at No. 5 after Arkansas (No. 1), Kentucky (No. 2), Houston (No. 3) and Kansas (No. 4).
“Rising sophomores Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis could be in for sophomore breakouts, and wing Julian Strawther should have a big junior season,” SI’s Kevin Sweeney wrote. “Plus, Few and the Zags are always apt to add a big-time transfer or two every spring.”
Sporting News isn’t as high on Gonzaga as SI, but higher on the Bulldogs than ESPN, penciling in Few’s team at No. 9 in a version of the way-too-early rankings released hours before Monday’s championship game.
“Without (Timme), Mark Few might face his greatest rebuilding challenge since 2014, the last time they failed to reach the Sweet 16,” Mike DeCourcy wrote. “Recruiting for the 2022 class has yet to yield an elite prospect, but remember – this is a prime transfer destination.”
Jon Rothstein of College Hoops Today slipped Gonzaga in at No. 6 in the “Rothstein 45,” which also featured Washington State at No. 43. A CBS Sports way-too-early Top 25 has Gonzaga at No. 7 while Stadium’s list includes the Bulldogs at No. 6.
Early NCAA Tournament odds posted by BetOnline favor Arkansas to win the championship in 2023 with 10-to-1 odds, but Gonzaga is among the next group of teams with a high chance of bringing home a national crown. The Bulldogs, Duke and Kentucky are all given 11-to-1 odds to win the championship, followed by Houston, North Carolina and Kansas at 14-to-1.
DraftKings Sportsbook gives Duke the best shot at winning the title under first-year coach Jon Scheyer. The Blue Devils are +900 followed by North Carolina (+1100), Kansas (+1200), Kentucky (+1200), Gonzaga (+1400) and Arkansas (+1400).
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