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Top 25 Countdown: No. 19 Gonzaga Bulldogs

Oct 9, 2012, 1:00 PM EST

NCAA Basketball Tournament - West Virginia v Gonzaga Getty Images

Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 26-7, 13-3 WCC (2nd); Lost in the Round of 32 to Ohio State

Head Coach: Mark Few

Key Losses: Robert Sacre, Marquise Carter

Newcomers: Przemek Karnowski

Projected Lineup:

- G: Kevin Pangos, So.
G: Gary Bell, So.
F: Guy Landry Edy, Sr.
F: Elias Harris, Sr.
C: Sam Dower, Jr.
Bench: Przemek Karnowski, Fr.; David Stockton, Jr.; Mike Hart, Sr.; Kelly Olynyk, Jr.; Kyle Draginis, Fr.

Outlook: For the first time in 12 years, Gonzaga will not be entering a season as the reigning WCC champs. Not only did Gonzaga finish second behind St. Mary’s in the WCC regular season standings, the Zags lost to the Gaels in the WCC tournament title game. And while that was likely a bitter pill for the good folks of Spokane to swallow, the good news is that Mark Few brings back an intriguing roster that will be expected to bring the WCC crown back to town.

It starts in the back court for the Zags, who return one of the nation’s most promising duos. Kevin Pangos is the star, thanks in large part to the fact that he kicked off he collegiate career by putting up 33 points — including 9-13 shooting from three — against Washington State on ESPN in the opening game of their annual Kickoff Marathon. That was far from the only big game that Pangos had last season; he went for 27 in a win over St. Mary’s in February and 30 in the regular season finale against BYU.

The issue for Pangos is that he was too streaky, as freshmen that rely on their ability to shoot and score the ball are wont to do. He was 3-18 from the floor in an overtime loss to St. Mary’s in the WCC title game and 3-13 in the loss to Ohio State in the NCAA tournament. He’ll get better — both with his consistency and his decision-making — as he matures and develops, so don’t be surprised if Pangos ends up being the next in the Dan Dickau-Derek Raivio pipeline.

The good news for Zags fans is that Pangos is not the only potential star that will take residence in Few’s back court this season, as he will once again be joined in the starting lineup by fellow sophomore Gary Bell Jr. Bell finished last season as one of the nation’s most dangerous three-point shooters while showing flashes, especially late in the season, of having the potential to develop into one of the best off-guards in the country.

But where Bell’s importance to Gonzaga truly lies in his ability to defend on the perimeter, because when he’s joined by senior Guy Landry Edy on the wing, the Zags all of sudden have a pair of tough, athletic and physical defenders. That’s important because Pangos — and back up point guard David Stockton, who was used alongside Pangos often last season — are not great on-the-ball defenders.

One guy to keep an eye on is redshirt freshman guard Kyle Dranginis. A two-time Gatorade State Player of the Year in Idaho, Dranginis opted to sit out last season instead of wasting a year of eligibility trying break into the rotation, but that doesn’t mean he can’t play. At 6-foot-5, Dranginis has drawn comparisons to Matt Bouldin. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he’s an excellent passer with deep range on his jump shot.

Gonzaga will be anchored up front by Elias Harris, who it feels like will be returning for his 13th season of college basketball. Harris burst onto the national scene as a freshman, putting up impressive enough numbers that there were folks — myself included — surprised to see him back for his sophomore campaign. After battling injuries as a sophomore, Harris had a somewhat disappointing, albeit promising, junior year. Harris reaffirm his potential as a lottery pick last year, but his value as a piece to Gonzaga’s puzzle skyrocketed. By the end of the season, Harris was Few’s best rebounder and one of his best post defenders. That’s big news given the fact that Robert Sacre has graduated. Throw in the fact that Harris is now hitting over 40% from three, turning into a deadly weapon spreading the floor, and it’s quite obvious the value he has at that position.

It will be interesting to see who starts and who plays major minutes alongside Harris this season. Junior Sam Dower, who has had a promising couple of seasons, returns with his first shot at getting serious minutes. Dower is a guy that many have predicted will have a breakout season. He’s an active rebounder that can score in the post, knock down an open jumper and hit free throws. The other option is Polish import Przemek Karnowski, who has quite a bit of hype surrounding him. Standing 7-foot-1 and somewhere around 275-300 pounds, Karnowski has drawn comparisons to Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol: he’s big, he’s got a soft touch, he’s got crafty post moves and he can really pass the ball.

The problem? He’s going to be overmatched from an athleticism and conditioning standpoint, especially as a freshman. But Gonzaga beat out a number of high-profile programs for Karnowski, and his ranking as No. 32 on the Draft Express top 100 list — right in between Arizona’s three high-profile freshman big men — should tell you all you need to know about his potential.

Gonzaga also gets Kelly Olynyk back this season, a lanky and active 6-foot-11 junior that spent last year as a redshirt. That quartet of bigs will give Few the ideal combination of size, athleticism and versatility for a front court.

Predictions?: I really like the makeup of this Gonzaga team. They have a pair of talented scorers in their back court and a front court rotation that can give a multitude of different looks. They have depth, they are balanced and they are experienced; even their two sophomore stars have already started for a full season. I think Gonzaga is the favorite in the WCC heading into the season, and the expectation should be for a trip to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.