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Gonzaga Basketball

Expectations high for Gonzaga entering basketball season, just not quite as high as usual

Gonzaga coach Mark Few watches former player Julian Strawther during an NBA Summer League game in Las Vegas.  (By Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

If Gonzaga’s coaching staff and players are looking for additional motivation entering the season, it’s only a few keystrokes away.

The 11th-ranked Zags open the season outside the AP preseason top 10 for the first time since the 2017-18 season. For just the second time since 2001, Gonzaga wasn’t picked to win the West Coast Conference title. Saint Mary’s is favored in the coaches’ preseason poll. The Gaels were favored in 2017-18 before finishing second, one game behind the Zags.

Gonzaga has frequently appeared as a Final Four pick and occasionally as the projected national champion at the outset of recent seasons. The Zags weren’t listed when six CBS Sports college basketball writers and four at ESPN made their picks for this year’s Final Four. The Messenger’s Jeff Goodman has Saint Mary’s in his Final Four.

Most analysts and oddsmakers expect Gonzaga to take a step back this season. Call it a small step with Gonzaga barely outside the AP top 10 and listed as a three seed in the NCAA Tournament in Joe Lunardi’s bracketology.

Still, it’s not a mystery why expectations are slightly lower with the Zags replacing Drew Timme, the program’s all-time leading scorer, and blending several newcomers and three transfers with returning starters Anton Watson and Nolan Hickman while facing a tough front-loaded schedule.

“With Jalen Suggs, Chet Holmgren and now Drew Timme all gone, Gonzaga’s national title window, for now, has closed,” Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg wrote. “Mark Few and his staff did a good job reloading via the transfer portal, but a successful season for these Zags would be outdueling Saint Mary’s for the WCC title and extending the program’s national-best streak of nine consecutive Sweet 16 appearances.”

“We simply don’t see the same level of talent in Spokane that existed for years under coach Mark Few,” wrote the Bay Area News Group’s Jon Wilner, who put Gonzaga at No. 17 on his AP preseason ballot. “Transfers Ryan Nembhard (from Creighton) and Graham Ike (Wyoming) will help offset the loss of Drew Timme, and the West Coast Conference remains Gonzaga’s for the taking. But the broader trajectory appears to be flatlining.”

Gonzaga was a No. 3 seed last year when it reached the Elite Eight. The Zags had been a No. 1 seed in four of previous five years – not counting 2020 when Gonzaga was projected as a one seed before the tournament was canceled.

GU is well down the list of national championship contenders. The Zags are 14th at +2800, according to ESPN Bet. Kansas is the favorite at +1100, followed by Purdue, Michigan State and Duke at +1200.

The Zags are tied for 11th at 33/1 with Baylor, North Carolina, Texas, UCLA, USC and Villanova, according to Kansas is first at 9/1, with Duke and Kentucky next at 12/1. Saint Mary’s is 66/1.

No Gonzaga players made the top 23 favorites for the Wooden Award. Purdue’s Zach Edey is favored to repeat at 2/1, followed by Hunter Dickinson (Kansas) and Kyle Filipowski (Duke) at 7/1.

Oumar Ballo, former GU center now at Arizona, is tied for sixth at 25/1 with UConn’s Donovan Clingan and Marquette’s Tyler Kolek. Saint Mary’s Aidan Mahaney is 66/1 and Ryan Kalkbrenner, Nembhard’s former teammate at Creighton, is 75/1.

Gonzaga is a slight favorite at 4/5 over Saint Mary’s (5/4) to win the WCC, according to The Zags are fifth among Maui Invitational favorites at 7/1. Kansas leads the way at 2/1. Purdue is next at 4/1 with Tennessee and Marquette at 5/1.