There is a decided drop-off in buzz and hype surrounding No. 11 Gonzaga as it opens its season on Friday night against Yale in Spokane, Wash.
Not only was Gonzaga missing from the preseason top 10 for the first time since the 2017-18 campaign, it no longer revolves around Drew Timme, the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,307 career points.
“It is an adjustment for all of us,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of the loss of Timme, a consensus first-team All-American last season in his fourth campaign for the Zags. “Just his personality, right? He walks into the athletic complex, he walks into the door, no matter where you are, you know he’s there.”
The Timme era ended with Gonzaga getting drubbed 82-54 by eventual national champion UConn in the Elite Eight of last season’s NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs also lost stalwarts Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton from a team that went 31-6.
Gonzaga is bullish on making sure the standard of excellence remains high.
Forward Anton Watson and guard Nolan Hickman are the lone returning starters so the Bulldogs reloaded in the transfer portal.
Landing point guard Ryan Nembhard from Creighton — his brother Andrew is a former Gonzaga standout who transferred from Florida — was a major score. The Bulldogs also reeled in Big Sky Player of the Year Steele Venters, a guard from nearby Eastern Washington and former Wyoming standout forward Graham Ike, who didn’t play for the Cowboys last season due to a foot injury.
It remains to be seen if someone emerges to be the top dog for a program that has had a lot of star power in recent years — guys like Chet Holmgren, Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Timme and Strawther.
As for not being in the Top 10, Watson isn’t the least bit concerned.
“I don’t pay attention to the polls,” Watson said. “We’re just going to focus on ourselves.”
The first task is dealing with Yale (1-0), which trampled Division III Vassar College 102-53 at home on Monday.
“That’s a scary game,” Few said of facing the Bulldogs. “It’s not an ideal opener for us. They’ll be smart, they’ll be tough, they’re super, super well coached. They’re picked to win the Ivy (League) and they have their whole team back.”
Yale, which went 21-9 last season, didn’t receive much of a fight from Vassar. The Bulldogs shot 63.5 percent from the field and held a 48-31 rebounding edge. Nick Townsend led the Bulldogs in scoring with 13 points while playing just 14 minutes.
“It was nice to be back out on the court. Our guys were obviously excited about playing a game,” said James Jones, who began coaching the Bulldogs in the 1999-2000 season. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but there were some promising things out there. Defensively, I thought we gave up too many open shots and we need to do a better job staying connected and getting stops.”
Yale has played in the NCAA Tournament three times during Jones’ tenure. In 2016, the No. 12 seed Bulldogs notched a memorable 79-74 upset of fifth-seeded Baylor for the program’s first March Madness win.
Yale played in the NIT last season, losing 71-62 to Vanderbilt in the first round.
Gonzaga won the lone previous meeting, 70-59 on Dec. 28, 1991 in Spokane.
–Field Level Media