SPOKANE, Wash. – Gonzaga enjoyed an unprecedented rise to No. 1 last season.
The Zags will be hard-pressed to reach those heights this season, after post players Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris moved on to the NBA.
Now ranked No. 15 going into the 2013-14 season, Gonzaga will have a different look this year, focusing on the play of experienced guards like Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and David Stockton.
"This is a very big year for us," said Pangos, the top returning scorer at nearly 12 points per game. "This is a year we have to lead the team."
"We're a lot smaller," Pangos acknowledged. "We can go out and run and shoot, but we've only got a couple of guys on post."
Gonzaga went 32-3 last season but was upset by Wichita State in the third round of the NCAA tournament. Wichita State ended up advancing to the Final Four.
No one expects the Zags to drop off much. Gonzaga was favored to win the West Coast Conference regular-season title in a preseason poll of the league's coaches. They received eight first place votes, while Brigham Young and Saint Mary's received one each.
The veteran guards will be joined by Gerard Coleman, who sat out last season after transferring from Providence, where he had averaged 13 points per game.
A big question is the front line. Olynyk, who averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds per game, was a first-round draft pick who now plays for Boston. Harris (14 points, 7 rebounds) signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.
That leaves the post positions in the hands of veteran Sam Dower Jr. and sophomore Przemek Karnowski.
"They're very different than Kelly," coach Mark Few said. "But we're hoping they can be every bit as effective."
Dower, who started seven games last year, averaged 6.9 points. The 7-foot-1 Karnowski averaged 5.4 points and 2.6 rebounds as a freshman in limited minutes.
Few said the Zags figure to be a scrappy team this year, with Pangos, Bell and Stockton likely to see a lot of minutes.
"They have been in a lot of big games," Few said.
Five things to know about Gonzaga this season:
SCHEDULE: Compared to past schedules that might have featured five ranked opponents in December alone, the Zags are getting a bit of a break this year. Their top non-conference games are against Memphis, Kansas State, West Virginia and Colorado State. They are playing in the Maui Invitational, where they open against Dayton and could end up facing Baylor, Syracuse, Arkansas or California.
MORE FEW: This is coach Mark Few's 25th season with Gonzaga. The Oregon native started in 1990 as a graduate assistant, became an assistant coach in 1992 and head coach in 2000. He has taken the Zags to the NCAA tournament every year he's been head coach, and has never won fewer than 23 games in a season. Last year's 32 wins were a program record. Few also has the highest winning percentage (.800) of any active coach with at least five years' experience.
MORRISON RETURNS: Former Gonzaga star Adam Morrison, a first-round draft pick whose NBA career was a disappointment, has joined the team as an undergraduate student assistant. Morrison is enrolled in school and working toward finishing his degree. "I can't say, especially back in his playing days, I'd ever see him doing this," Few said. "It's always pretty cool to be pleasantly surprised and I can say I'm pleasantly surprised with where he's at."
WE'RE NUMBER ONE: A loss by Indiana propelled Gonzaga to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 last season, a slot they occupied for the final three weeks of the poll. They were also a top seed in the NCAA tournament. But Gonzaga became just the fifth top seed to lose in the round of 32 since the NCAA expanded to 64 teams in 1985. That gave fuel to critics who contend the team was overrated.
THE STREAKS: Gonzaga has appeared in post-season play in 19 of the past 20 seasons, including 16 trips to the NCAA tournament and three trips to the NIT. They have appeared in the West Coast Conference tournament final for 16 consecutive seasons.