Gonzaga flirted with history last season, but its bid for college basketball's first unbeaten run to a national championship since 1976 was derailed by Baylor in the title game.
There's no way the Zags' latest edition could be better than last year's crew that put up video-game numbers offensively and won 29 games by double-digits, right? That's a tall order, but don't be surprised if they're in the same ballpark, er, arena.
Gonzaga has assembled perhaps the deepest and most talented roster in program history, but it's a tad light on experience, which has been a key ingredient with recent national champions. Still, it would be wise not to dismiss Gonzaga's chances of snagging its first national title with veterans Drew Timme, Andrew Nembhard and Anton Watson. Iowa State transfer Rasir Bolton is new to the program, but he boasts 59 career starts. The freshman class is rated as the best in school history.
"We have a lot of talent, a lot of depth," assistant coach Brian Michaelson says. "We're young overall, but the experience we have is high-end experience when you think about Andrew, Drew and Anton.
"The freshmen class has talent, versatility and brings different things. Versatility and depth, those are things that are going to be our calling card."
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Mark Few
2020-21 RECORD (WCC): 31-1 (15-0)
2020-21 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Baylor 86-70 in the championship game
G Joel Ayayi (12.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
F Corey Kispert (18.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
G Jalen Suggs (14.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
Timme put his pro plans on hold to return for his junior season. The 6'10" forward is probably the frontrunner for National Player of the Year. He was Gonzaga's leading scorer last season at 19 points per game, thanks to an endless supply of post moves and nifty footwork. He applies foul pressure on opposing bigs — his 184 free-throw attempts ranked 11th nationally — and he drained 67.7 percent of his 2-point shots. He's worked hard in the offseason to expand his shooting range, which could make him even tougher to defend.
His sidekick is expected to be Chet Holmgren, the No. 1 recruit in the nation. The 7'0", 195-pound Holmgren is comfortable operating on the perimeter, can stretch the floor with a smooth 3-point stroke and is a willing passer. Holmgren's biggest impact could be at the defensive end, using his length and timing to provide rim protection that was missing last season.
Watson has starting experience, can play the 4 or 5 and is a versatile defender. Sophomore Ben Gregg fits the mold of past GU bigs with a 6'10" frame and passing and perimeter shooting ability. Freshman Kaden Perry, sidelined most of his high school senior season with a back injury, could contend for minutes if he's healthy.
Nembhard assumes the lead guard role after splitting duties last season with NBA-bound Jalen Suggs. Nembhard is a wizard working off ball screens and should take on more of the scoring load. The big question: Who lines up next to Nembhard?
There are five talented guards/wings in the mix for starting/rotation minutes. Sophomores Dominick Harris and Julian Strawther have a year in the system. Both showed an ability to score inside and outside the 3-point arc in limited minutes. The 6'7" Strawther has the height to play a small-ball 4, something the Zags utilized effectively last year with Corey Kispert. Iowa State transfer Bolton had solid numbers (15.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.9 apg) on a two-win team. He's adept at penetrating and getting to the free-throw line (326 career attempts, 85.6 percent accuracy).
Freshmen guards Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman bring impressive credentials and will push for significant playing time.
The Zags have been knocking on the national championship door the last five seasons, but they haven't broken through. They're back as a potential preseason No. 1 and one of the favorites to win the title. The frontcourt could be among the nation's best with Timme's and Holmgren's skill sets complementing each other. Nembhard is an All-America candidate with extensive big-game experience. The Zags have depth, talent and a roster capable of hoisting the trophy in April.
Postseason Prediction: NCAA Tournament Champion
WCC Prediction: 1