2016-2017 Season Review
You probably already know just how incredible Gonzaga's season was last year, but here's a recap anyways: Mark Few's crew entered the season ranked #14 by the AP, so expectations were pretty high. They exceeded those expectations and then some, as they completely dominated their competition. They won their first 29 games of the season before dropping the regular season finale to BYU. They bounced back and breezed through the WCCC Tournament to earn a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Entering the Big Dance, the Zags had wins over Florida, Iowa State, Arizona and Saint Mary's three times. Just four of their regular season/conference tournament wins were by single digits and 20 were by 20+! In the NCAA Tournament, they handled South Dakota State, survived Northwestern and West Virginia and blasted Xavier to make their first ever Final Four. They defeated South Carolina by four to reach the National Championship where they lost a back and forth game to North Carolina, 71-65. Their final record was 37-2. It was a season that will go down in college basketball history as one of the best, if not THE best by a mid-major school (Gonzaga is a mid-major school, but their basketball program definitely is a high-major).
The Bulldogs were hit hard by departures, as they lose four of their top five scorers. Nigel Williams–Goss declared for the NBA Draft after a junior season that saw the guard earn numerous honors including Consensus Second Team All-American, Naismith Award semi-finalist and WCC Player of the Year. NWG averaged 16.8/6.0/4.7, 1.7 SPG, and hit 43 threes. The winningest player in D1 college basketball history, 7 footer Przemek Karnowski, graduated after an illustrious career in Spokane. He finished 15th in school history for scoring, 2nd in blocks, and 6th in rebounds. He was a First Team All-WCC selection last season as he averaged 12.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.9 APG and shot 58.6% from the field. Guard Jordan Mathews graduated after averaging 10.6/3.3/1.5 and hitting 85 threes at a 39.2% clip. 7 footer Zach Collins became the first one and done in Gonzaga history as he declared for the NBA Draft after a freshman season in which he averaged 10 PPG, 5.9 RPG and 1.8 BPG. He was a Second Team All-WCC selection. 7'1 Ryan Edwards and guards Dustin Triano and Bryan Alberts are all guys that played very sparingly and decided to leave as graduate transfers.
While Gonzaga lost some huge pieces from last season, they also return some key cogs to that 37-2 record. Johnathan Williams, who will be a 6'9 senior, was a First Team All-WCC selection. He averaged 10.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG (team high) and shot 59.2% from the field. Williams' versatility will be key for the Bulldogs. 6'3 junior Josh Perkins started 35 games and averaged 8.1/2.3/3.1 in addition to hitting 63 threes at a 39.9% clip. He'll be the main man in the backcourt with NGW gone. Joining Perkins in the backcourt is 6'4 senior Silas Melson. Melson averaged 7.2/2.4/1.5 and 39.1% from three. While he did play 23.8 MPG last season, his role should be much bigger this year. Killian Tillie, a 6'10 sophomore, didn't see the court a ton last season with Williams, Karnowski and Collins ahead of him, but this kid can play. The former 4 star recruit averaged 4.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in just 12.2 MPG. Those numbers will take a big leap this season. Another intriguing big man that didn't get to see the court much last year is Rui Hachimura. A strong 6'8 forward from Japan, Hachimura averaged 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds in just 4.6 MPG. While Hachimura is raw, he is extremely explosive and athletic and he averaged 20.6 PPG and 11 RPG at the FIBA U-19 Tournament for Japan. Jeremy Jones is a 6'6 junior that averaged 1.1 RPG in 23 games.
For the 2017 recruiting class, Mark Few brings in Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi. Kispert is a 6'6 four star recruit. Kispert plays on the wing and is a lights out shooter while also being able to bully smaller defenders. Ayayi is a long 6'5 guard from France that is a quick and athletic player but still fairly raw. Mark Few also has two players from the 2016 class that redshirted this past season. Jacob Larsen, a 6'11 four star recruit from Denmark, is a strong physical big that can play the center position. Zach Norvell Jr., a 6'4 guard, was the #19 SG in the 2016 class but sat out last season with a knee injury. Norvell is an athletic, strong player that has a smooth left handed shooting stroke. In Gonzaga's exhibition against West Georgia before the season last year, Norvell scored 18 points in 23 minutes. He definitely has a chance to start. Mark Few will also finally have Jesse Wade at his disposal this season. A 6'1 guard, Wade was the #20 PG in the 2015 recruiting class but as been on a mission trip (Mormon). Wade is a smart player that handles the ball really well. He also can shoot the 3 ball and has drawn comparisons to Kevin Pangos.
Gonzaga has had its doubters for years and still had them when they were 29-0 and destroying every team they faced. The run to title game likely silenced most of the critics, but in a sport that's all about what have you done for me lately, they'll need to prove they're one of the best programs in the nation again this season. It'd be silly to think they won't take a step back this year, because they will. But this is still a team with loads of talent and potential. They have ball-handlers, shot makers, defenders and bigs. There's little to no doubt the Zags will be in the Big Dance for the 20th straight year and they'll likely be a preseason top 25 team. How high they climb in the polls and how far they go come March, though, will come down to if guys like Perkins, Williams and Tillie can take the step forward and become THE guys.