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October 2, 2009
Before Gonzaga contends for its 10th consecutive West Coast Conference regular-season title and 12th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, coach Mark Few needs some major questions answered. The main one: Who besides Matt Bouldin is going to contribute? The Bulldogs enter the season looking to sort out a roster that lost starters Josh Heytvelt, Austin Daye, Jeremy Pargo and Micah Downs. The roster turnover leaves Gonzaga with as many questions as it had before the 2006-07 season, Few's first after Adam Morrison's departure. But this is Gonzaga, and there's a reason the Bulldogs have dominated the WCC for a decade. Bouldin, the likely preseason conference player of the year, isn't a bad centerpiece for a rebuilding team. Gonzaga is young but still has enough talent for another conference title and another NCAA tournament appearance.
Matt Bouldin can play at either guard spot or slide up front to play small forward.
This is where Few has the most questions, mainly because Heytvelt and Daye held down the forward spots in recent seasons. Seven-footer Robert Sacre is a good bet to start at one vacant position in the frontcourt. Sacre started 10 games as a freshman but played only five games as a sophomore last season because of a broken foot. Gonzaga is putting much on the shoulders of a player who has averaged less than 10 minutes in 34 career games. The other forward spot is up for grabs. The most intriguing prospect might be 6-8 freshman Elias Harris, an athletic, versatile forward from Germany. Bol Kong, a junior college transfer, comes from Sudan via Canada, and he'll be in the mix, too. Redshirt freshman Andy Poling, four-star true freshman Mangisto Arop and freshmen Sam Dower and Kelly Olynyk also will get looks.
All the uncertainty in the frontcourt is offset by the three-guard lineup of Bouldin, Demetri Goodson and Steven Gray. Bouldin is the centerpiece of the team after leading Gonzaga in scoring. He's a versatile, all-around threat who averaged 13.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 steals last season. He can play at either guard spot or slide up front to play small forward. After coming off the bench the past two seasons, Gray needs to take a bigger role as a junior. He shows signs of being up to the task after raising his scoring, rebounding and assist numbers while cutting his turnovers last season. Goodson should take over at point guard for Pargo, a three-year starter who led the WCC in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio as a senior. A 5-foot-11 speedster, Goodson - brother of Carolina Panthers running back Mike Goodson - could blossom in his first season as a full-time starter. Gonzaga isn't certain about its backcourt depth. True freshman G.J. Villarino and redshirt freshman Grant Gibbs figure to be the first guards off the bench.
Heytvelt, Pargo and Daye carried Gonzaga to another WCC title and a Sweet 16 berth, the fourth trip to a regional semifinal under Few. Without those three, Gonzaga likely will be unranked in the preseason AP poll for only the second time since 2002-03. Few will learn much about his team in the early months, with games against Michigan State, Washington State, Wake Forest, Duke, Oklahoma and Illinois, plus the Maui Invitational. Gonzaga's record on Jan. 2 might not be pretty, but the Bulldogs almost certainly still will be the favorites for the conference title.
Preseason rankings were compiled by basketball writers David Fox, Mike Huguenin, Jason King and Steve Megargee.