Welcome to Playboy.com’s 2014 Bracket Challenge

Gonzaga made a name for itself as a top NCAA College Basketball program last year, but a 2014 March Madness title will cement the Bulldogs as the real deal
01/16/2014
 

Team Preview: 2014 Gonzaga Bulldogs

By: Tory Davis

Coach: Mark Few 374-93 at Gonzaga (374-93 overall)

2012-13 Finish: 32-3 (16-0 in WCC), NCAA Third Round

For Gonzaga, the 2012-13 season was perhaps the finest campaign in the history of the program: a perfect conference record, a number one seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and the school’s first ever national number one ranking.

But then it all went wrong. Despite boasting established scorers in Kevin Pangos and Elias Harris, and soon-to-be NBA first-round pick Kelly Olynyk, the ’Zags lost to tourney darlings Wichita State in the third round of the Big Dance, bringing their dream season to a sudden, nightmarish halt.­

So it’s back to the drawing board for coach Mark Few. Few can turn to junior point guard and third-year starter Kevin Pangos, whose ability as both scorer and provider will be imperative to Gonzaga’s fortunes going forward.

Strongside: Junior guard Gary Bell Jr. joins Pangos in the Bulldogs’ backcourt, a role that Bell Jr. has filled every season since he arrived at Gonzaga. The tandem will be relied upon to handle scoring from the outside for the Bulldogs and thus far has lifted the team to third in the nation in field goal percentage. Few also has the luxury of turning to senior David Stockton as the third guard. The son of former NBA star John Stockton, David has a similar passing proficiency and will handle the offense in the event of Pangos’ absence.

In addition, senior forward Sam Dower Jr. and sophomore center Przemek Karnowski return for Gonzaga, albeit in much more important roles in replacing the departed Harris and Olynyk. At the beginning of conference play, Dower is embracing his enhanced role, averaging nearly 13 points per game and contributing six rebounds per game. Karnowski’s contributions have averaged nearly a double-double per game, with 10 points and eight boards per contest.

Weakside: As is often the case when star players move on, the ’Zags are lacking in depth, especially up front. Mark Few brought in forward Angel Nunez from Louisville, but time will tell how well he fits into the rotation. It’s likely the Bulldogs will need Nunez to transition quickly; they could use the help.

Rebounding is a big issue for Gonzaga; they’re outside the top 100 programs in the nation in rebounds per game. Their struggles on the boards could probably be traced to their overall lack of size. Even though Karnowski cuts an imposing figure at seven feet one inch and over 300 pounds and Dower measures six-foot-nine and 300 pounds even, the pair of them are the only established players on the team with any size.

All Told: Of course, Gonzaga’s qualification for the NCAA Men’s Tourney is rarely in doubt these days. Working against a weak West Coast Conference, the Bulldogs will be odds-on to retain their crown. Overall, their schedule is also weak—their only game against a ranked program is against Memphis—so one of their obstacles will be how they are seeded once they make the tourney.

Of greater concern is how the team will respond to stiffer opposition. Their lack of frontcourt depth is worrisome: Karnowski and Dower will certainly need to be spelled off after having to run their 300-pound frames up and down the court. When they need a break, any ability the ’Zags have at rebounding and defending the paint seemingly leaves the court. While the Bulldogs will anticipate an appearance in the tourney, even building on their disappointing run from last season appears unlikely.

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