College basketball countdown: No. 22 Gonzaga
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
The first word: Gonzaga coach Mark Few knows what naysayers are thinking.
They’re saying the coach with an 80.1% winning percentage lost his two best players last season — Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris — to the NBA.
They’re saying the coach who’s led the Zags to the NCAA tournament in every season he’s been coaching can’t break through based on last year’s sour ending: A Final Four-projected Gonzaga squad ranked No. 1 in the country bowed out of the NCAAs early, losing to tournament darling Wichita State and once again failing to advance further than the Sweet 16.
Few is used to the skepticism. Gonzaga will have a challenge replacing an All-Americabig man and a four-year starting forward with athleticism and versatility. But the cupboard is far from bare in Spokane, and it never is.
The Bulldogs return the veteran backcourt of Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and David Stockton, while big men Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski are talented fill-ins poised to tap their potential.
2012-13 in review: 32-3 overall (16-0, West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament champion), lost in third round of the NCAA tournament.
Tournament projection: Automatic bid, No. 6 seed.
Coach’s corner: “This is still a veteran team. It’s an interesting dynamic to say the least. I’ve been in situations where we’ve lost four starters and still came back to make the NCAA tournament. We’ve had big holes to fill, like when you lose a player like Adam Morrison, but this is the first time we’ve lost two players to the NBA. At same time, we have two guys waiting in wings, chomping at the bit in Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski. Then we have an experienced backcourt that I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone better than. …Last year, we were as motivated as any team. We were in a good position to go far, but we ran into a team that shot lights out and defended incredibly well (Wichita State). The motivation is there, but it’s always been there.” — Few, now in his 15th season with Gonzaga.
Star watch: The backcourt … [For more on College basketball countdown: No. 22 Gonzaga, click here.]