Sometimes we embrace this "fresh slate" mentality to purposefully suppress painful memories (see: Everything). Sometimes we embrace it because the message-board- and ESPN-has-too-many-hours-to-fill hype machine has ingested us so wholly that we're stuck dog paddling around the intestines of easy hope and we don't want to stop. And sometimes, as is often the case with myself, we embrace it honestly: We simply forget about some of last season's 33 games because our lives are extremely busy or we have short-term amnesia (this is actually a concern of mine) or because we were feeding the family fish when ROOT cut back way too early from a commercial and oh my God how did I miss Rashad Green doing game-winning business.
So, instead of being entirely near-sighted, instead of using absolutely the worst and most hackneyed future-looking sports sentence structure on the planet - "If (x) does/stays (y), then he has a chance to be one of the best (z) in the country/league" - when we're at shitty bars or sitting on each others' couches, let us reflect. Let us look back and see if we can tell where the 2012-13 Gonzaga Bulldogs are going based, partially at least, on where the team is coming from, like re-watching the last few episodes of the last season of a show before you watch the season premiere.
This is especially important to do with Gonzaga because it's both the thing with the target on its back in the WCC, and because it is a program that's as much perennially-misunderstood as it is a perennial powerhouse.
In my mind, there are two central ways to break this down: where a team is coming from in terms of personnel, and where the team is coming from in terms of results. Let's deal with personnel first.
The coaching staff is still entirely intact. In May, Ray Giacolleti interviewed for the head coaching job at his former employer, Illinois State. He lost out to Dan Muller and came back to K2HQ still the proud owner of a collegiate assistant basketball coaching position at Gonzaga University. There is roughly zero mystery and inconsistency surrounding this staff, except perhaps how they'll be inconsistent this year dishing out plays and playing time. Mark Few, still Mark Few. Donny Daniels, still dialing Compton. Tommy Lloyd, still jetting to Europe. Jerry Krause, still somehow alive. And none of them will ever say anything publicly that we don't already know. Or at least to this esteemed web publication.
The teeth of our analysis really comes from player personnel. Last year's roster had one true senior on it and another senior who transferred to the program his junior year. The latter of these players was Marquise 'The Egg' Carter, whose name and beautiful oblong head shape I was unable to recall for several hours yesterday when trying to tell a friend who the team lost to matriculation aside from Bobbity SacSac. Maybe this speaks to Marquise's effectiveness on the court in the waning hours of his Gonzaga career. Or, it means I'm a jackass.
Despite losing only two players to graduation, Gonzaga lost six players total
(Aside: It's no accident that these three departures were Gonzaga's three lowest minute-getters. Nerd fact: Mathis Kieta received exactly half of the minutes of Mathis Monninghoff in 2011-12, who received less than a third of the minutes Mike Hart received. Maybe that makes sense based on the outcome of how each player performed and was managed. Maybe it doesn't. But I'll be damned if I find a single strain of logic that made Mark Few attempt the experiment in the first place. Also, why are these three departures' names all removed from the 2011-12 roster despite being shown in the photo above it and, you know, actually being on the team in 2011-12?)
Sacre certainly had an unquantifiable presence in the post. He was large and bald and vaguely Cajun. He had painfully-documented difficulties catching the ball and then putting that ball in the cylinder in an expeditious fashion. He will be most missed for his elite ability at getting to and scoring from the line. He was extremely strong, gave defenses a lot to worry about, and logged major minutes. And his teammates loved him. Marquise...well, Marquise scored a lot of points his junior year and then, in true bizarro Fewian fashion, both his minutes and effectiveness diminished over time. Like, diminished in half.
Gonzaga added three new players and diddled around with three more. It landed sexy 300 pound concrete block Przemek Karnowski, instantly usable Memphis Tiger transfer Drew Barnham, and the gloriously-named walk on Rem Bakamus. (Greg Heister, at some point in the kid's career, will shout, "RRRRREMMMYYYY!" That is not speculation. That is a simple fact.).
Remember, kids, Jean Claude Lefebvre was Prez Karnowski
before Prez Karnowski was Prez Karnowski
So, in a year where Gonzaga's active arsenal should've lost two guys and gained maybe three, its roster movement involved twelve players. That's insane. It is also indicative of the meta-transfer era. As a result, the Zags are coming from one personnel state last year that, on paper, is not at all what it is now.
Some factors will mitigate the differences. It is noteworthy that Gonzaga's top six minutes getters minus Sacretious are all still here: Sam Dower, Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr., Elias Harris and David Stockton. But it is also noteworthy that Mark Few weighs the consistency of prior contribution fairly little when allocating future minutes; the former doesn't predict the latter well unless you're talking about the team's guards or Harris.
Accounts point to Dranginis being beyond traditional "redshirt freshman" stages. Karnowski, depending on how fuzzy he makes Mark Few feel on the insides, will eat up potentially very deserved minutes like he presumably eats up potatoes and slaw and other Warsaw delicacies. Olynyk is a 6'11" question mark with something called "upside". Plus, there are two other rando guards who may or may not ever come off the bench. This is all in exchange for, in terms of minutes and influence at least, basically just trading away Robert Sacre. That's a great deal, but it raises way more questions than it answers and is hard to draw conclusions from.
This is all to say that while the team has lost six guys and gained six others, it's coming from a good place and is landing in what strongly appears to be an even better place. That place should encourage vague and tempered stirrings of optimism, and that's it. The very fact that we have to use the word 'appears' makes me shy away from conclusions even more so than usual. Usually, as fans, we know way less than we think we do. Here, despite returning four core guys, we know extremely less than we think. Twelve aspects of this year's roster are different than last year's. Most entire rosters are twelve items long.
If we're trying to inform the personnel of the future by being conscientious of the personnel of the past, we're not going to get very far - other than to expect strong play out of the team's two sophomore guards somewhat near the rate of consistency at which they delivered last season, which was nearly always. We all know Dower and Harris can be frighteningly good, but despite having a larger sample size we know less about their consistency. Therefore, Gonzaga fans can say that the team is returning two excellent guards and two guys who can be shockingly good, or can be oddly uninvolved, and usually err more toward the former. This is the core of what we know. It's positive news, but it doesn't tell us how that positive news will play out. It doesn't tell us very much at all.
However, the conclusions we can draw by utilizing a results-based perspective are different and maybe more meaningful. Maybe we'll draw some of those conclusions henceforth. Maybe we'll do it in tomorrow's post (dramatic pre-intermission crescendo).
Will Green writes about WCC basketball for The Upset out of innate habit. You can crucify him or tell him about interesting new college basketball things @Zagacious on Twitter.