No. 14 Gonzaga boasts new look heading into opener
It is a basketball season anew, once again. And once again, the No. 14 Gonzaga Bulldogs enter the campaign with their eyes set on March.
The season opener for Mark Few's Bulldogs comes against the Utah Valley Wolverines on Friday. It will be the first time the two have met, with the Wolverines facing a Gonzaga roster that was both depleted and replenished over the course of the summer.
The Bulldogs' two leading scorers from a year ago, wing Kyle Wiltjer and forward Domantas Sabonis, are both on NBA rosters.
Wiltjer, who led the team with 20.4 points per game, was signed by the Houston Rockets as an undrafted free agent. Sabonis, who averaged 17.6 and added a team-high 11.8 rebounds per game, went 11th overall in the NBA draft to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Guard Eric McClellan, the Zags' third-leading scorer, also graduated.
Gonzaga, however, brings in a trio of well-regarded transfers from Division-I programs and returns center Przemek Karnowski, who was granted an extra year after missing the entire 2015-16 WCC season with a back injury. When healthy two years ago, Karnowski averaged 10 points and seven boards with limited playing time.
“I think (last season) was a huge life lesson for me, for the appreciation of things that you have every day,” Karnowski said, via the Associated Press. “It was hard to do any daily activities when I was injured.”
Joining Karnowski on the Zags' new-look squad are former Pac-12 guards Nigel Williams-Goss and Jordan Matthews, from Washington and California, respectively, and forward Jordan Williams, from Missouri. All three, plus Karnowski and returning backcourt starter Josh Perkins, should be expected to compile a starting five for the Zags, whose biggest strength may reside in their depth.
“We have depth at pretty much every spot,” Few said. “We're really balanced; the guys are kind of equal ability across the board. I don't know if any one guy is going to play 35 minutes every night and we can't live without him. That hasn't been the case in many of the years prior.”
That depth could play an especially potent role in the nonconference season.
Karnowski, while expected to be ready for Friday's season opener, is still recovering from back surgery he had at the end of December.
Perkins was cited for physical control of a vehicle while under the influence three weeks ago, with his pretrial hearing set for Thursday. Few hasn't indicated a disciplinary decision.
Friday's season opener will likely feature a pair of patchwork teams.
Utah Valley has undergone even more offseason turnover than the Zags, bringing in 11 newcomers, made up of eight transfers and three freshmen – and a new coach.
“This is going to be a tough test for us,” coach Mark Pope said, via The Deseret News. “Gonzaga is a national brand for a reason. They win a lot of games and are led by one of the top coaches in the nation. They are big and athletic. They have a lot of depth.”
Gonzaga will be shooting to make its 18th consecutive NCAA tournament this season. The path to that goal begins Friday at McCarthey Athletic Center.