SPOKANE — Gonzaga forward Elias Harris knows there are big expectations for a team that returns four starters and is ranked No. 21 in the preseason Top 25.
“A lot of people are projecting huge things, talking about the Final Four and being one of the best teams Gonzaga has ever had,” Harris said. “Our starting five and second five, it doesn't really drop.”
The four returning starters are Harris (13 points and 8.5 rebounds per game), plus guards Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, Jr. and Mike Hart.
Coach Mark Few is used to high expectations for his squad, and doesn't think they are misplaced this season.
“We have a lot of guys returning, we have some nice experience and we have some tremendous depth,” Few said. “And we're very skilled.”
But Few also noted the Zags did not win the West Coast Conference regular-season or tournament titles last year — Saint Mary's did — a rare occurrence since Gonzaga rose to national prominence.
Last season's Gonzaga team finished 26-7 and went to a 14th straight NCAA tournament, losing to Ohio State in the second round.
The biggest departure is center Robert Sacre, who averaged 11.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game and was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. The Zags also lost a handful of role players.
Gonzaga this season seems particularly deep in the front line, where Harris, 6-foot-9 Sam Dower and 7-foot Kelly Olynyk are joined by newcomer Przemek Karnowski, a 7-foot-1 freshman.
“Big guys are always so hard to find, so anytime you get quality big guys it's very important to building your program,” Few said of Karnowski.
The back court is also solid. Pangos and Bell became starters as freshmen last year. Also back are guards Guy Landry Edi and David Stockton and redshirt freshman Kyle Dranginis.
“We've had a great run of guards at Gonzaga,” Few said. “I love the ones I have in Gary and Kevin.”
Newcomers include Drew Barham, a transfer from the University of Memphis who has two years left and is immediately eligible because he has already graduated.
“We have a lot bounce, a lot of guys that can score a bunch of different ways,” Few said. “I don't know if we have a guy that can go out every night and get you 20. There are a lot of guys capable of upper double-figures scoring.”
Gonzaga has a typically loaded non-conference schedule, with West Virginia, Illinois and No. 19 Baylor coming to Spokane. They play Kansas State in Seattle, and have road games against Clemson, Butler, Washington State and Oklahoma State.
With the WCC improving, Few wonders if it is time to dial down the non-conference schedule.
“We are at the point where we have got to back off a little here,” Few said. “We can't do Murderer's Row throughout the entire preseason.”
Gonzaga was chosen by WCC coaches to win the regular season title, and four players — Pangos, Bell, Dower and Harris — were preseason all-conference selections.