With at least four of Gonzaga’s nonconference showdowns arguably ranking in college basketball’s top 15 matchups during the season’s first seven weeks, the Zags will encounter many of the nation’s finest players.
Second-ranked Gonzaga will run up against the reigning player of the year, probable All-Americans, numerous projected NBA first-round draft picks and several potential lottery selections.
That doesn’t include the PK85 over the Thanksgiving holiday and a potential showdown with Duke freshmen Dariq Whitehead, Dereck Lively and Tyrese Proctor – all projected lottery picks by The Athletic. Or a potential second-round PK85 clash with Purdue and 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey, a CBS Sports’ preseason third-team All-American selection.
And it doesn’t include Gonzaga’s 64-63 thriller Friday over Michigan State from an incomparable location: the USS Abraham Lincoln flight deck.
This week alone, the Zags visit No. 12 Texas in Austin on Wednesday before tangling with No. 4 Kentucky on Sunday in the Spokane Arena. Texas forward Dillon Mitchell ranks among the best in a strong freshmen class. Kentucky senior forward Oscar Tshiebwe, who swept player of the year awards last season, is mending from knee surgery last month and didn’t play in the Wildcats’ first two wins.
“We’ll have to see,” coach John Calipari said of Tshiebwe’s status for Tuesday’s Kentucky-Michigan State game. “I hope (he can play), but I have no idea.”
Here’s a look at the top players from the top opponents on Gonzaga’s nonconference slate.
The 6-foot-9, 260-pound Tshiebwe is a force in the paint at both ends of the floor. He led the nation in rebounding last season (15.2) and set a Kentucky single-season record with 28 double-doubles. He collected at least 10 boards in 32 of 34 games.
Tshiebwe averaged 17.4 points, doubling his output from his previous season at West Virginia. The native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a finalist for Naismith defensive player of the year and captured the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award. Gonzaga’s Drew Timme was a finalist for the latter award.
Freshman Cason Wallace is considered the Wildcats’ top NBA prospect. The 6-4 combo guard is tough-minded, a strong defender and capable scorer. Wallace, who is averaging 11.5 points, 6.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds, is No. 9 in the Athletic’s mock draft.
The 6-8, 205-pound forward is a high-level athlete that thrives in the open floor. Mitchell has put up an interesting stat line through two games. He’s made all seven of his field-goal attempts, but hasn’t attempted a 3-pointer. He’s 0 of 5 at the free-throw line. He’s grabbed 16 rebounds, six on the offensive end.
Mitchell has play-making ability, despite his perimeter shot being a work in progress, and the athleticism to defend multiple positions. He’s listed at No. 8 in NBAdraft.net’s mock draft, No. 9 by Stadium and No. 11 by the Athletic, which noted Mitchell “is the kind of athletic wing teams covet across the NBA.”
Texas also boasts Iowa State transfer Tyrese Hunter, the Big 12’s Freshman of the Year last season. The 6-foot guard leads the Longhorns in scoring (14.0) and also averages 6.0 rebounds. Guard Marcus Carr, who transferred from Minnesota to Texas after the 2021 season, contributes 11.5 points and 3.5 assists.
George, yet another standout freshman expected to be a one-and-done lottery pick in most mock drafts, has big-time scoring ability. He was No. 6 in ESPN’s class of 2022 rankings, alongside No. 1 Lively, No. 2 Whitehead, No. 4 Mitchell and No. 9 Brandon Miller (Alabama).
The 6-4, 185-pound George is already demonstrating his strengths at the offensive end with eight 3-pointers, including six in a 23-point effort against Norfolk State in his second collegiate game. He’s an all-around player, averaging 5.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 3.0 steals for the fifth-ranked Bears, who face Gonzaga on Dec. 2 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
George is part of Baylor’s quality guard line that includes senior Adam Flagler, who averages 19.5 points and projects as a second-round draft pick, according to Stadium and NBAdraft.net.
The freshman forward is 6-9, 200 pounds, and shares similarities in size, length and upside to Texas standout Mitchell.
Miller probably isn’t as explosive athletically as Mitchell, but he’s smooth offensively and can score inside and outside. He has a solid 3-point stroke and drained four 3s in two Alabama wins. He made all eight of his free throws while averaging 17 points and 10.5 boards.
Miller is No. 3 in NBAdraft.net’s mock draft and No. 5 in Stadium’s. He’s surrounded by talent, including senior point guard Jahvon Quinerly, who could return in December from a torn ACL suffered last March, and freshman guard Jaden Bradley, a top 25 recruit in the 2022 class.
Gonzaga takes on No. 20 Alabama in Birmingham on Dec. 17.
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