Countdown to College Basketball: #1 Gonzaga Bulldogs

The Countdown wraps up with the number one team, which to the surprise of exactly no one, is the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Before we begin, I want to say a big Thank You to all who followed along and read throughout this countdown, as it certainly was fun to countdown to the start of the season, now let’s get into the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Bulldogs are coming off an incredible season, where they started 31-0, but ultimately fell short of the ultimate goal of winning a National title. While Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, and others are all gone from a season ago, returning Drew Timme and adding potential #1 pick in the NBA Draft, Chet Holmgren has made the Bulldogs the class of the sport. Now the question becomes not if they can be a one seed or make the Final Four, it has truly become National Championship or bust for this Gonzaga team, as anything but being the last team standing will leave this program in the same position, where people will say that Gonzaga is not capable of winning the Championship. 

The Bulldogs will have two potential First Team All-Americans with Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren, who will make up the best frontcourt in College Basketball. The headline player and National Player of the year favorite will be Drew Timme, who was a First Team All-American at a season ago. Timme is a high-level scorer, rebounder, and will be the face of College Basketball this season, thanks to his personality. What makes Timme so difficult to go against is his mobility on the offensive end, he can score on the low-block and is maybe the best post scorer in the sport, which makes him an instant bucket. The reason why Timme is back in College is that he’s not a great athlete or shot-blocker, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be the Player of the year in the sport this season. The best thing for Timme might be getting is one Chet Holmgren to play alongside him at the center spot. Holmgren is a 7’1 forward that has a 7’7 wingspan, while nimble in nature, he plays with an underdog, tough mentality that Gonzaga needs. Holmgren will provide some offense in the post while having the ability to score from the perimeter and off the dribble. Defensively, Chet will be a high-level rim protector, while his mobility allows him to switch onto anyone on that end as well. 

While Andrew Nembhard is no Jalen Suggs (not many are), he is more than capable of running the show on a National Championship level team. Nembhard isn’t going to blow you away scoring-wise, while he’s a good shooter, he’s not a good enough scorer to be an All-American. That said, Nembhard provides exactly what this team needs, he’s a solid, steady hand with the ball, he spaces the floor and is a good entry passer, which will work well with their dominant frontcourt. While he will take more offensive responsibility this season, look for him to be a 3rd option for the Zags team. 

The likely biggest key for this team to win a Championship comes down to the play of their freshmen guards, as while there’s experience and talent on this roster, they present the most upside for this team. Hunter Sallis is the team’s other five-star prospect, he’s a 6’4 combo guard that can run the offense at times, as he’s a skilled passer, but will most likely play off the ball this season. Sallis is an explosive athlete, is sneaky long, and has the ability to knock down shots at a high level, which this team needs. Nolan Hickman is a Top-30 prospect in this class, while Hickman isn’t the athlete that Sallis is, he’s a true point guard, who has an ability to create his own shot and score, while he can move Nembhard off the ball at times this season. Both players should fit into this system as both are good passers, shooters, and defenders. 

The Bulldogs will have some experienced pieces that may have to come off the bench but will provide some upside, which is a testament to the depth of this team. Rasir Bolton led Iowa State in scoring a season ago, and moves into a role where he’ll have to take a step back. Bolton is an inconsistent guard, who is a decent shooter, passer, and defender, who will hope to have a nice impact either as a starter or reserve. Anton Watson will be a really good role piece as well, Watson is a good defender, who is a good shot-blocker and one of the most efficient post scorers, while he could potentially move Holmgren down to the 3 at times, which makes the frontcourt formidable. 

Gonzaga will look to implement Julian Strawther and Dominick Harris into the rotation more than they have in the past. Strawther is a 6’7 wing that is good at back cutting and scoring around the rim, while mobile enough defensively to keep up with guards, plus has some shooting upside that will help this team at times. Harris was a good shooter in limited minutes a season ago, while he will carve out a role by being a good defender at the guard spot. Kaden Perry will probably be limited to playing only when the Bulldogs are running teams out of the gym, he’s an elite-level athlete who should be a good shot-blocker but he’s behind three great bigs in the rotation. 

The Bulldogs are at a point where any result that falls short of this team winning a National Championship will be looked at as a failure. It is unfortunate that most people are unwilling to look at how good Gonzaga actually is, but to shut down the naysayers a title has to be the result of this season. Luckily for Gonzaga, they are rightfully the favorites to win the title this season. When a team has arguably the National Player of the Year and Freshman of the year, and those are different players, the team will be very good. Scoring on this frontline will be tough with Holmgren, who will contest every interior shot, while Timme will be excellent in the post as he has been throughout his career, while he should only improve as a defender over this offseason. 

The real key for Gonzaga to win the National Championship comes with its backcourt, as they need their guards to play well in order to have success. Andrew Nembhard is a really steady option at the guard spot, but he probably needs to have a major impact on the offense both as a scorer and passer. Sallis and Hickman need to be able to play big minutes and produce right away, Sallis has more pressure as he’s less replaceable because of his athleticism and shooting ability. They will also need the pieces coming off the bench to produce in a way that they weren’t necessarily needed a season ago. Should the guard play space the floor and allow Timme/ Holmgren to dominate inside, this Gonzaga team will be able to have a good chance to beat any team that they could possibly face during the season. While having early-season success, and winning the WCC Championship will be nice, we all know none of that matters without the Bulldogs being the last team standing in March Madness. 

Projected Rotation 

PG: Andrew Nembhard 

SG: Nolan Hickman

SF: Hunter Sallis

PF: Chet Holmgren 

C: Drew Timme 

B1: Rasir Bolton

B2: Anton Watson

B3: Julian Strawther

B4: Dominick Harris

B5: Kaden Perry

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