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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Offseason uncertainty: Gonzaga’s early exit leaves plenty of questions, from Drew Timme’s future to myriad backcourt possibilities

UPDATED: Sat., March 26, 2022

Following Thursday’s Sweet 16 games, Houston was installed as NCAA Tournament favorites – a role that rested on Gonzaga’s shoulders for five months – then promptly lost to Villanova on Saturday.

Saint Peter’s became a household name and the embodiment of March Madness. Transfer portal and NBA draft declarations are trickling out daily on Twitter.

Time and college basketball march on and the Zags’ earlier-than-expected exit as the top overall seed put the program in offseason mode earlier than expected. It promises to be an interesting few weeks and months ahead as the 2022-23 roster takes shape.

Will Gonzaga need to replace four starters?

It seems almost certain 7-foot freshman Chet Holmgren will follow the footsteps of his former prep teammate Jalen Suggs and become the Zags’ next one-and-done to make millions in the NBA.

Despite battling foul trouble against Memphis and Arkansas, Holmgren averaged 13 points, 13.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in three tournament games, hitting 76.2% of his attempts inside the arc but just 1 of 8 on 3s. The latter dropped his season percentage to 39.0.

ESPN’s Jonathon Givony has Holmgren at No. 1 in his latest mock draft, released after the first week of the NCAA Tournament.

Holmgren had a “somewhat underwhelming performance by his lofty standards” against Memphis and projected lottery pick Jalen Duren, but noted that the Zag “still clearly got the best of the matchup,” according to Givony.

The biggest question facing Gonzaga is the same one after its loss to Baylor in the 2021 title game: What will Drew Timme do? The 6-foot-10 forward decided to return for his junior season last May, roughly seven weeks after the championship game.

What’s changed since? Timme had another big year, earned another second-team All-American designation, put up huge point totals again in March Madness and cashed some healthy name, image and likeness (NIL) checks along the way.

Drew Timme wrestles the ball away from two Arkansas defenders in Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 loss Thursday.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Drew Timme wrestles the ball away from two Arkansas defenders in Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 loss Thursday. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

NIL is obviously a consideration for high-profile players like Timme, who has several deals with local and national businesses, when weighing whether to stay, test the NBA waters or turn pro.

Timme didn’t tip his hand on Selection Sunday, saying, “I don’t let money affect my decisions. I’ll make a decision based on what I’m most comfortable with and what I feel is best for me.”

Another consideration for players is prolonging their college careers with an additional COVID season of eligibility. Gonzaga’s senior backcourt of Andrew Nembhard and Rasir Bolton didn’t rule it out when asked in February, but it would seem to be a long shot, particularly in Nembhard’s situation.

He declared for the draft twice when he was at Florida. The second time, he pulled his name from consideration and transferred to Gonzaga. He’s had two strong seasons as a Zag and likely elevated his draft stock this year, despite struggling in Thursday’s Sweet 16 loss to Arkansas.

Nembhard had career-high averages in points (11.8), assists (5.8), steals (1.6), 3-point accuracy (38.3%) and free-throw percentage (87.3).

“Nembhard showed why he’s one of the best point guards in college, scoring 10 points in the last 4:37 to cap off a 23-point, 5-assist game in an 82-78 win over Memphis,” ESPN’s Mike Schmitz wrote after the first weekend of the tournament. “Every time the Tigers made a run, Nembhard made a play, making two of his five 3s down the stretch while proving he’s capable of punishing teams for darting under screens.”

Givony projected Nembhard as a second-round pick at No. 47 to New Orleans, two spots ahead of Timme.

Bolton might be more inclined to consider returning next season. He was a seamless fit with an 11.2 scoring average and 46% 3-point shooting. The veteran of 115 college games also was active in the community helping those in need.

Sophomore Julian Strawther stepped into the starting wing position and averaged 11.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and hit 36.5% on 3s, despite a cold streak in the tournament (1 of 14). He made the jump from limited minutes as a freshman to impact starter and posted big games against Duke, Saint Mary’s, San Francisco and BYU.

If both senior guards exit, the backcourt reins will probably be handed to point guard Nolan Hickman and guards Hunter Sallis and Dominick Harris. Hickman and Sallis appear primed to assume bigger roles, similar to what Strawther did in his second season. The same applies to Harris, who didn’t play this season following an October foot surgery.

It’s subject to change, obviously, depending on recruiting – Gonzaga is a finalist for five-star guard Anthony Black – and the program’s tendency to add a graduate transfer guard nearly every season.

Gonzaga also could turn to the transfer portal for a big, particularly if Holmgren and Timme both leave. Anton Watson, who started 22 games in his first two seasons, would become the most experienced and productive returning forward (7.3 points, 4.7 rebounds as a junior this season).

Ben Gregg has played limited minutes in 35 games over the past two seasons and Kaden Perry, who played eight games before being sidelined by a back injury, are promising young bigs. Braden Huff, a class of 2022 commit, joins the program after helping his high school team win a state championship in Illinois.

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