- Gonzaga is coming off the best season in program history. How will head coach Mark Few ensure there's not a major dropoff in 2017-18?
The college basketball off-season is long and largely lacking in major news developments. Programs are still finalizing their 2017 recruiting classes and sorting out which of their players will return for another season or jump to the professional ranks. We’ve got a long way to go until Midnight Madness. To help pass the time, SI.com is asking and answering three key questions about each of the teams in our Way-Too-Early Top 25. Here’s No. 6, Gonzaga.
1. Who protects the rim?
The Zags lost a lot with the graduation of big man Przemek Karnowski and their first one-and-done freshman, Zach Collins—two 7-footers who could score and play defense. Gonzaga will need others to step forward so it can replicate what was one of the best defenses in the country last season.
The task will likely fall to forwards Johnathan Williams, a 6’9” Missouri transfer who started every game last season, and Killian Tillie, a 6’10” reserve from France who played important minutes during the Zags’ Final Four run. And don’t forget Rui Hachimura, a 6’8” forward from Japan who played just four minutes per game but should be a big-time player in the years to come. Hachimura led the 2014 FIBA U-17 tournament in scoring by averaging 22.6 points and already has NBA scouts’ attention. Look for him to be the next in a long line of talented foreign big men who have played in Spokane. Speaking of which…
2. How good is the newest crop of redshirts?
No one in college basketball has utilized the mid-career redshirt as well as Gonzaga, though this season, with a loaded front court, they redshirted a newbie instead: Jacob Larsen is a 6’11’’ center from Denmark who chose the Zags over offers from Maryland and Marquette. Gonzaga also values post play in a way many programs don’t, and head coach Mark Few and his staff obviously know how to develop guys inside. That bodes well for Larsen's future. He will likely make an impact, and it would be good if redshirt guards Jack Beach and Zach Norvell Jr. did, too. Beach played in 13 games as a freshman in 2015-16, and Norvell Jr. graduated from the same Chicago high school as Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker.
Gonzaga inked just one player in the early signing period in 6’6”, 215-pound forward Corey Kispert. But they’ll finally get a guy they’ve been waiting two years for: Jesse Wade committed to Gonzaga in 2013, signed his letter in November 2014, then left basketball for a two-year LDS mission. The 6’1’’ guard has completed his tour through Lyon, France, though, and is expected to join the team this summer. In 2014 he was considered the top guard in the state of Utah. His father, Eric Wade, told Spokane reporters during Gonzaga’s Final Four run that Jesse had added almost 10 pounds of muscle during his mission, using the allotted 45-minute exercise time each morning to bulk up his frame. He has deep three-point range.
3. How does Gonzaga follow up the best season in school history?
Do not expect to read anything in this section about Few finally getting the monkey off his back. The reality is that before Few led Gonzaga to its first ever Final Four and national championship game appearance, he had built one of the most successful and consistent programs in college basketball. A Final Four run might legitimize him to outsiders, but this program has been on top for a long time. That won’t change, even with some big departures. So, how soon before the Zags make another deep tourney run? It shouldn’t be long.