No matter how useless these rankings are to Mark Few's team, it's still fun to hear what the nation thinks about this year's squad. If you think Gonzaga is still the cute little secret nestled in the Pacific Northwest, it's time to wake up and smell the hardwood. More than any other year, the Zags will sneak up on absolutely no one. If you don't believe me then just read what Athlon and Sporting News have to say about the Bulldogs. Two of the most well respected sources for sports news had nothing but praise for this year's Bulldogs.
Athlon: The national magazine that previews not only every college sport, but every conference has slated the Zags as an elite eight team in 2008-09. This quote should serve as a nice recap of the offseason and some concerns for the for the season.
"Pargo’s return means the Zags are loaded once again, with an experienced player — several, in some cases — at every position. Bottom line: Gonzaga is primed to continue its dominance of the West Coast Conference. “We have a good group of players coming back,” Few says. “But we lost two senior guys (David Pendergraft and Abdullahi Kuso) … and trying to replace the toughness they both brought is a real concern.”
Once you see 10 or more preseason rankings, they all start blending together. They all key on Pargo's return and the departure of Pendo and Kuso and how we can possibly deal with that difficult non-conference schedule. Gonzaga's toughness is something people have pointed to as their fatal flaw since Adam Morrison's departure. Hopefully the Zags can shut up everyone who says that they are not tough enough by showing well in the Old Spice Classic. Toughness is something that I personally am not concerned about with this year's team. It's not always shown by diving on the floor and going crazy after fouls. A huge part of toughness is being confident in your team and with the scheme you run. This team has a great bond and are very comfortable with one another. The main core also has a deep understanding of the offense now and should be confident in that aspect as well. Kuso and Pendo will be missed of course; but the talent and skill coming back to this team is scary good. Toughness should not be an issue.
Sporting News: Now we're talking! The Sporting News recently released their college basketball season preview and it has something that most previews do not have; and that is surprises. Not only has the Sporting News given Gonzaga their highest ranking to date, #4, but they have also singled out an individual on this team in the All-American race (it's not the one you were expecting). Sporting News has Austin Daye (right) as a first team All-American. Joining Daye on the prestigious list is Tyler Hansbrough, James Harden, Stephen Curry, and Blake Griffin.
Make no mistake, this is Jeremy Pargo's team but if the team wants to go to the top of the mountain, Austin Daye will have to lead them there. He is a bona fide superstar in the making. True, this is probably Gonzaga's most balanced team in terms of scoring the basketball in a long time; the Zags have guys all over the court that can score 20 points on any given night.
However, what Gonzaga lacked last year was a player that could take over the game each and every night, ala Adam Morrison. With Morrison, Gonzaga could be down 10 points with 4 minutes left and you just felt it in your heart that he was going to carry the Zags to a win. Last season we missed that. It's hard to put that much pressure on a sophomore in college but I really think that Daye can handle it. Remember, he also has a much better supporting cast than Morrison did.
The key for Daye will be the injury. Zag Nation breathed a huge sigh of relief when he didn't have surgery, but is it going to heal in time? There has been limited discussion about his condition because no one wants to deal with what the season would be like without Austin. I'm sure he will need some time to get his conditioning back and get back into playing form. The first meaningful game won't take place until November 27th when the Zags battle Oklahoma State so he has time to recover. He should be good to go in Orlando and Gonzaga will need him right away as they take on some of the best teams in the nation right off the bat.