BREAKDOWN Throughout his wildly successful 12-year run as Gonzaga's coach, Mark Few has remained a realist. So it comes as no surprise that he admits to having some major concerns about his Bulldogs' chances of extending their 11-year run of winning or sharing the regular-season West Coast Conference title. At the root of Few's unease is the arrival of perennial power BYU, which has jumped from the Mountain West Conference to the WCC and appears poised to challenge GU's supremacy.
"BYU is a national program, much like ours," Few says. "So they'll be a serious threat to our streak of conference championships. And I think, across the board, the other programs in our league will have some of the best teams they've had in quite a while."
But despite a newly strengthened WCC, the Bulldogs look to capitalize on a powerhouse frontcourt led by first-team All-WCC selection and senior center Rob Sacre. Sacre has been a beast in the paint since arriving in Spokane and will be looking to improve upon the impressive numbers (12.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) he posted last season. Junior Elias Harris, who averaged 12.4 points and 6.0 rebounds as a sophomore, will try to bounce back from what many perceived to be a subpar season. Junior Kelly Olynyk, another solid big who saw his playing time curtailed last winter by the late-season emergence of Sam Dower, developed into a prolific low-post scorer and seems ready for a breakout sophomore season.
Despite strength upfront, things get dicey in the backcourt. Gonzaga will have to deal with the departures of Demetri Goodson, Steven Gray and Mangisto Arop's making it clear why Few needs freshmen Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos to figure things out in a hurry.
If they don't, the pressure will be on senior Marquise Carter, a second-year junior college transfer who became a force midway through the 2010-11 season and earned the WCC's Newcomer of the Year Award. Carter averaged 6.3 points and 2.1 assists as a junior, but was named the MVP of the league tournament. Former walk-on David Stockton, a sophomore and son of NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton, will also be expected to step up after becoming a major midseason contributor at the point. Sophomore Mathis Keita, a streaky shooter who can light it up from the wing, faces similar expectations. Still, the Bulldogs will need help from either Bell or Pangos -- or both -- in order to set up the stable of scorers they have up front.
FINAL ANALYSIS With so many questions in the backcourt, this promises to be one of the most intriguing seasons in recent memory. Another difficult nonconference season will test the Bulldogs early and they could struggle while their young guards get a feel for play at the Division I level. But with so much talent, size and experience up front, look for Gonzaga to continue its reign in the WCC.
NEWCOMERS Gary Bell (G, Fr.): Outstanding ballhandler who can shoot.