What’s Next for Gonzaga?

Last Thursday, Gonzaga lost to Eric Musselman’s Arkansas Razorbacks 74-68. It was the second consecutive season where they were the favorite to win it all and failed to do so. So What’s next for Gonzaga, and do they have a realistic chance at their current state of winning a title?

Dominance

Gonzaga was rewarded with their 4th 1-seed in the last five years after another astonishing finish to the regular season. In five years, Mark Few and his Bulldogs have lost only three regular-season conference games and one postseason conference game.

Their one seeds have been seemingly earned as they proved to be one of the best, competing in tough out-of-conference matches each season.

But in 25 years of dominance, 23 with head coach Mark Few, the National Title is elusive as ever.

Earlier Failures

They’ve made the title game just twice, once losing to the Tar Heels of North Carolina, and last year going undefeated, 31-0, only to lose in the final game of the season to Baylor.

The Baylor loss was especially tough. Similar to the Zags, the Bears had been trending up as of recent as their head coach Scott Drew reshaped the program. But they hadn’t been nearly as dominant.

Baylor’s road to the top happened quicker than anticipated, and it frustrated those in Spokane who thought it was time for Gonzaga to finally reach the top of the college basketball world. They felt that they had done their time, and they were ought to be rewarded.

Team Makeup

Last season’s disappointment only fueled this year’s team. Forward Drew Timme and Guard Andrew Nembhard decided to return to the program to chase the title, and they recruited heavily on the top guys in the 2021 class, something Gonzaga usually does not even attempt to take part in.

Number one overall recruit Chet Holmgren joined the team, as did top high school stars Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman. They even recovered Rasir Bolton in the transfer window.

This year’s team was built to do it all. They had lengthy wing defenders, they had speed, they had shooting, and they had size. There was nothing this team wasn’t capable of.

Exposed

But Musselman and the Razorbacks exposed them in the Sweet 16. They got back on defense and held Gonzaga to just five three-pointers. They usually make around eight a game.

Arkansas didn’t do what most teams try and attempt with Gonzaga, slow them down. No. Instead, they ran with them and even sped them up. At the end of the game, it was clear Gonzaga hadn’t been pushed like this all year, and Arkansas had been well-drilled in enduring the physical, fast-paced contest.

Arkansas turned them over and raced back the other way for an easy bucket on numerous occasions. They hit just enough shots to win the game. Arkansas only scored 74 points, a number that would have resulted in an expected loss vs this Bulldogs program.

Razorback star JD Notae shot the ball 29 times, making just nine of them.

Another big factor in the game was Trey Wade, starting forward for Arkansas who plays under 20 minutes in many of his starts. But today was finally the day where the three-point-per-game scorer would go off. He did was Julian Strawther was supposed to do for Gonzaga by hitting three threes and getting deflections leading to buckets. In 33 minutes, Wade scored a season-high 15 points to cap off the victory.

Arkansas beat them at their own game. Forget about Chel Holmgren’s controversial foul trouble because it wouldn’t have mattered. The SEC school just plain out beat them.

Response and Future

So what’s next for Gonzaga? Well, Mark Few is going to have a lot of thinking to do over the next 6 months or so before the season really kicks off.

Believe it or not, Drew Timme and Andrew Nembhard both have more time of eligibility should they choose to return, but it’s not looking super likely that either will do so. They’ll retain Strawther as a leader for next year’s team, but shooter Rasir Bolton won’t be there. They are also obviously going to lose Chet Holmgren to the NBA as he’s the projected first overall pick.

Freshmen Nolan Hicknam and Hunter Sallis will return and have more of a role to take on while some of the younger guys who didn’t play may jump into the limelight next season.

Gonzaga will likely find a transfer or two in the portal who want to help them win their first championship, but their freshman class isn’t close to what it was last year. Currently, they have signed just one freshman, Illinois state champ Braden Huff, and he’s not even in the top 100 of ESPN’s rankings.

Next year they’re going to rely on growth from within, which has been the blueprint for many successful teams recently such as Villanova, Baylor, and Virginia. Their window of belief within the program may be closing and they may only have a few more years before their dominance is ended by other up and coming programs in the country.

 


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