Elias Harris was terrific as a freshman but regressed as a sophomore. (Icon SMI)
By Mark Cunningham
Monday, October 10, 2011
Last Season: 25-10 (11-3)
Key Losses: Steven Gray, Demetri Goodson, Mangisto Arop
Head Coach: Mark Few
PG: Kevin Pangos 6-1 Fr.
SG: Marquise Carter 6-4 Sr.
SF: Elias Harris 6-7 Jr.
PF: Sam Dower 6-9 So.
C: Robert Sacre 7-0 Sr.
Key Reserves: Gary Bell 6-2 Fr. SG, David Stockton 5-11 So. PG, Guy Landry Edi 6-5 Jr. SF, Kelly Olynyk 7-0 Jr. PF, Mathis Monninghoff 6-7 So. SF, Mathis Keita 6-5 So. SG, Mike Hart 6-6 Jr. PG, Kyle Dranginis 6-5 Fr. SG, Ryan Spangler 6-8 Fr. PF
Eleventh-seeded Gonzaga was knocked out of the NCAAs in the Round of 32 by Brigham Young. Much has changed in the last seven months. Instead of an 11 seed, GU could very well be the 11th ranked team in the nation come tournament time this year. And the Bulldogs won't be encountering the Cougars in the first weekend of March Madness anytime soon. BYU is now a member of the West Coast Conference. Expect these two programs to have a few run-ins pre-Madness in the near future.
Players come and go in college basketball – it's the nature of the game. The tiny, Jesuit school of less than 5,000 undergrads has become a perennial representative in the NCAA tournament thanks to one man – Mark Few. Few has not failed to miss The Big Dance during his 12 seasons in Spokane. Opening round losses have been few and far between for ‘Zags fans; there have only been three in Few's tenure. The 48-year old coach has been on the sideline for every WCC Tournament championship game since taking over in 1999, sporting an impressive 9-3 record.
Few's 2011 offseason was very stressful off the court. Along with Billy Gillispie, Lute Olson and Scott Drew, Few was an investor in a Ponzi scheme triggered by David Salinas, a Houston businessman and the coach of an AAU team that former Bulldog Demetri Goodson was a member of. Goodson started all 35 games last season but transferred to Baylor to play for the Bears football program. The guard-turned-special teamer has returned three kickoffs for 100 yards in five games.
Ever since John Stockton was running the floor at "The Kennel" back in the early 1980s, Gonzaga has had a reputation for producing impact guards. "The New Kennel," a.k.a. McCarthey Athletic Center, will bear witness to an influx of promising backcourt talent.
In-state product Gary Bell was a rare get for Few, considering the 6-foot-2 guard is from the Puget Sound area. The 68th-ranked player in the ESPNU 100 for 2011, Bell seeks to replace the departed Steven Gray. Canadian Kevin Pangos could see more playing time right away as a true point man carrying a deft jumper. Pangos joins fellow Canadians Robert Sacre and Kelly Olynyk in Spokane. The trio has all spent time on Canada's national team and will have a chance to play in front of their home fans in Vancouver next month against Hawaii.
Kyle Dranginis rounds out the freshman guard threesome. The Idaho native could see time at both guard spots. At 6-foot-5, he extends defenses with precisions well beyond the arc but can penetrate and dish against overzealous defensive schemes. With John's son, David Stockton, showing above-average ability at running the offense for spurts last year, the guard play for the Bulldogs has come full circle.
Junior college transfer Marquise Carter didn't become an integral part of Few's offense until mid-February last season, but it wasn't too late for the veteran off-guard to be named the WCC Newcomer of the Year and tournament MVP. Carter's leadership could do wonders for the freshman guard class.
Who will be named to the All-WCC Freshman team out of Bell, Pangos and Dranginis? There could be multiple Bulldogs selected, but Sam Dower has the torch to hand off. The power forward displayed uncanny touch with his back to the basket as a frosh, but had room for improvement on the defensive end. Dower should see his minutes rise significantly as a sophomore.
Sacre and Elias Harris round out the frontcourt for Few. Sacre was named to the WCC All-Conference roster, while Harris settled for Honorable Mention. Sacre, a 7-foot center, is a key reason Gonzaga ranked 13th in the nation in free-throw percentage last season. His 82.3 percent clip deterred double-teams from sending him to the charity stripe. While not as raw anymore offensively, Sacre has consistently made his presence felt on defense. All 84 inches and 260 pounds of Sacre stay in the opposition's mind before entering the paint; Sacre has averaged nearly two blocks per game each of the last two years.
Harris took a step back in his sophomore campaign. If Harris can take two steps forward, that would back up GU's lofty preseason expectations – and his NBA Draft potential.
Few has once again built a challenging non-conference schedule that the selection committee loves. Washington State, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Butler come to Spokane, while the Bulldogs travel to face Illinois and Xavier on the road. Arizona and GU have a "neutral" December date in Seattle. Gonzaga went 2-5 against ranked opponents in 2010-11.
As usual, Saint Mary's will provide the toughest test for Few and Co. How the freshmen handle the pressure of March will likely determine if these Bulldogs can bark their way into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008-09. (Sacre is the lone holdover from that squad, but decided to medical redshirt after an early season foot injury.) If GU's student section, The Kennel Club, wants to make plans on Bourbon Street for the last Saturday in March, that hinges on whether or not Harris can progress and show why he was once considered an NBA lottery pick.