The college basketball season begins in November and it is time to start counting down the days until tipoff.
As the excitement builds, websites across the Internet start posting team previews and this will be no different. I will unveil three per week, leading up to a Halloween release date of the regular season predictions.
Scary, isn’t it? Not really but the team I start with can strike fear into most in the nation.
The reigning 14-time conference champion Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Conference finish: T-1st
Postseason: NCAA Third Round
Head Coach: Mark Few, 13th season
Returning starters: G Marquise Carter, F Elias Harris, C Robert Sacre
Key newcomers: G Gary Bell
Key games: 11/30 Notre Dame, 12/3 at Illinois, 12/10 Michigan State, 12/20 Butler, 1/12 at Saint Mary’s, 2/2 at BYU, 2/9 Saint Mary’s, 2/18 at San Francisco, 2/23 BYU
No team, short of the eventual champion Connecticut, caught fire at the end of last season like the Zags did.
After losing three straight WCC games for the first time under Mark Few, capped off by losing to Saint Mary’s in Spokane for the first time since the McCarthey Center was opened, Gonzaga won 12 of its next 13 games.
Gonzaga went on to upset sixth-seeded St. John’s in the second round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to BYU.
The catalysts for the run all return in the form of Marquise Carter, David Stockton and Sam Dower.
The trio began to get consistent minutes during the Saint Mary’s game in Spokane and it was the energy they brought that help bring the team back in the conference, claim the WCC Tournament title and make an impact in the NCAA Tournament.
Toward the end of the season, junior forward Elias Harris started to show flashes of the potential NBA draftee people saw during his freshman season.
Harris paired with the return of senior center Robert Sacre makes a formidable combo for any team to have to deal with.
Gonzaga’s non-conference schedule is, again, one of the nation’s toughest but they will play host to a number of 2011 NCAA Tournament participants.
The first big test will be the Big East’s Notre Dame when they go to the Kennel to play Gonzaga on Nov. 30. The Fightin’ Irish have seen big time players graduate each of the past couple of years but have always found a way to reload.
They will also host Tom Izzo’s Michigan State team which is looking to redeem itself after a subpar 2010-11 season.
Back-to-back NCAA Tournament runner-up Butler will also travel to Spokane in a battle of super powered mid-majors.
Bottom line: Gonzaga remains the deepest team in the league and, until someone claims an outright regular season title, is the team to beat.
Follow Zack Farmer on Twitter: @ZackFarmerWOTF
Coming this month:
Oct. 5 – Player of the Year candidates
Oct. 10 – Gonzaga
Oct. 12 – Loyola Marymount
Oct. 14 – San Francisco
Oct. 17 – Santa Clara
Oct. 19 – San Diego
Oct. 21 – BYU
Oct. 24 – Portland
Oct. 26 – Saint Mary’s
Oct. 28 – Pepperdine
Oct. 31 – Season Predictions