Las Vegas oddsmakers and various national media outlets have lofty expectations for Gonzaga with the season opener just two months away.
The same goes for college basketball coaches.
The Zags received high praise in CBS Sports’ annual survey of approximately 100 coaches conducted by Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander on a wide range of topics, including Drew Timme’s player of the year candidacy, GU’s chances of winning the program’s first national championship and the McCarthey Athletic Center’s standing among the sport’s best venues. Coaches were granted anonymity in exchange for candid opinions.
Timme, who opted to return for his senior season instead of turning pro, came out on top when the coaches were asked to name the best player this season. The 6-foot-10 forward received 43.9% of the vote. Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, the reigning player of the year, was next at 33.7% and North Carolina’s Armando Bacot was third (10.2%).
“Timme’s won more games than any player in his class,” one coach said. “He’s the best post player I’ve seen in college basketball in I don’t know how many years and he’s a consummate winner. He’s nasty, tough, can score, his IQ is dependable. He doesn’t have a weakness other than analytics – yeah, yeah he got a little exposed versus Baylor. He’s got a great ’stache, too. Freddie Mercury.”
“We play them twice a year, so I get an up close and personal view of him,” offered a West Coast Confernce coach. “In the past couple of years he’s been the most dominant, hardest-to-prepare-for player we’ve faced. He finishes everything 8 feet and in. You double him, he can pass out. He’s a complete nightmare. We’ve had to literally try every defense possible at him … and it seems like nothing has worked.”
“They (Gonzaga) still play a traditional style of basketball, inside out, moving parts, it’s not just 3s and layups,” another coach said. “I don’t know if they go into all the stats and all those things, the KenPoms and that, I just know when I watch them play they do play the traditional style of basketball. To me, that’s the most exciting thing to watch in college basketball as a coach. He’s probably the best player in the country at playing that way.”
Timme and Tshiebwe will clash Nov. 20 in Spokane when the Zags face Kentucky in a battle of teams expected to be in the preseason top five.
Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Houston’s Marcus Sasser were the only other players to receive multiple votes.
Timme was the coaches’ pick for best player prior to last season with 45%, followed by Kofi Cockburn and former Zag Chet Holmgren.
The coaches chose North Carolina, which lost to Kansas in the championship game last season, as the best team. The Tar Heels received 37% of the vote, followed by Houston (28%), Gonzaga (20%) and Kentucky (5%). Arkansas, which eliminated Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 last season, and Baylor, which thumped GU in the 2021 title game, shared fifth with 2%.
“Their returning core gives them an edge over the other teams in my mind,” one coach said of North Carolina. “I also think that the addition of (Northwestern transfer) Pete Nance and the continued development of Puff (Johnson) will help them. One of the freshmen, Tyler Nickel, is an absolute monster and could make a difference this year as well.”
“Gonzaga is bringing back too much talent from a great team to not be the favorite to win it all,” another coach said of the Zags. “Timme should be better than ever and I think this will be the year they actually win the national title.”
Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center made the coaches’ top tier for best environments in college hoops. Coaches were asked to name their three and the Kennel was listed on 27.4% of the votes. Allen Fieldhouse, the home of the Kansas Jayhawks, was first with 67.3%, followed by Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium (50.5%).
“Allen Fieldhouse is a treasure,” according to one coach. “You walk by the hall of fame, you walk through the fans on your way from the locker room to the floor, and then there’s just something about when you step on that floor and think of the history of the game. And then at some point the “Rock Chalk” chant echoes through the arena. You know this is what basketball is supposed to be.”
“They built that thing right,” one coach said of the McCarthey Athletic Center. “Perfect size. Students are wild. I don’t blame (Kentucky coach John Calipari) for not wanting to play there. It’s a madhouse.”
Added another coach: “When they play ‘Zombie Nation’ before tipoff, it’s one of the best student section hype songs I’ve seen. It gets loud and the arena actually shakes.”
Purdue’s Mackey Arena and Arizona’s McKale Center led Tier 2 at 15.8%, followed by Indiana’s Assembly Hall and Kentucky’s Rupp Arena, both at 10.5%. BYU’s Marriott Center was mentioned on at least three ballots.
Coaches selected Seton Hall’s Shaheen Holloway, who led Saint Peter’s to the Elite Eight last season, as the best off-season coaching hire, edging Sean Miller, the former Arizona coach now at Xavier. Mississippi State’s Chris Jans, a former Idaho Vandals assistant, was tied for ninth. Florida’s Todd Golden, previously the head coach at San Francisco, was tied for 12th.
Chris Gerlufsen, Golden’s successor at San Francisco, received votes.
The coaches projected the Big Ten as the best conference after realignment when UCLA and USC join as members in 2024 and Oklahoma and Texas head to the Southeast Conference. The SEC was second, followed by the Big 12, ACC and Big East.
“I’m in Big East country – and it’s not even close,” one coach said. “The Big Ten is a monster from top to bottom.”
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