Nolan Hickman, Gonzaga Bulldogs

The Gonzaga Bulldogs lose a staple player at the end of an era and its experience in one swoop.

As is tradition, CBB Review again ranks the top 100 teams heading into the new college basketball season. We will reveal the next team each day until we reach the team slotted at number one. Follow along with #CBBRank on all our social media channels.

Mark Few loses his most tenured player, Drew Timme, a true team leader. The Gonzaga Bulldogs also had three players go pro: Julian Strawther, Rasir Bolton, and Malachi Smith. The team also had two walk-ons, Kellen Mitchell and Kaden Perry, not return to the team with career-ending back injuries. Another surprise scratch walk-on was Abe Eagles, who has no information about the lack of his return.

Coach Few did bring in four transfers, with one coming from Korea, Jun Seok Yeo, who had played against Chet Holmgren in 2021. He also brought in some freshmen talent from California, then additional players from overseas to add depth.

This team is very different from the usual Gonzaga Bulldogs teams. They have a lot of potential, but it could be a dip for the Bulldogs. The starters will likely be the more experienced and older players. Coach Few has to develop the young talent.

Click here to learn more about our preseason top 100 teams heading into the 2023-24 college basketball season.

Head coach:  Mark Few (25th season, all at Gonzaga)

2022-23 record: 31-6 (14-2)

2023 postseason finish: Lost to UConn, 82-54, in Elite 8 of NCAA Tournament

Notable departures: Drew Timme (Graduated), Julian Strawther (NBA), Rasir Bolton (Pro), Malachi Smith (NBA), Hunter Salis (Transferred to Wake Forrest), Efton Reid (Transferred to Wake Forrest)

Notable nonconference games:  vs. Purdue (Nov. 20, in Maui), Maui Invitational (Nov. 21-22), vs. USC (Dec. 2, in Las Vegas), at Washington (Dec. 9), vs. UConn (Dec. 15), vs. San Diego State (Dec. 29), at Kentucky (Feb. 10)

Projected Rotation

PG: Ryan Nembhard (6-0, 167, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 12.1 PPG, 4.8 APG, 4.0 RPG, 35.6 3P% (Creighton)

SG: Nolan Hickman (6-2, 185, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 7.7 PPG, 3.1 APG, 2.4 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 35.4 3P% 

SF: Steele Venters (6-7, 175, Rs.-Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 15.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.5 APG, 37.1 3P%  (Eastern Washington)

PF: Anton Watson (6-8, 225, Sr.)

2022-23 stats: 11.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.8 SPG, 60.8 FG% 

C: Graham Ike (6-9, 245, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 19.5 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 1.3 APG, 51.0 FG% (Wyoming)

6: Ben Gregg (6-10, 225, Gr.-Sr.)

2022-23 stats: 5.1 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 0.7 APG, 37.7 3P% 

7: Dusty Stromer (6-6, 192, Fr.)

247Sports Composite No. 47 rated recruit

8: Colby Brooks (6-7, 210, So.)

2022-23 stats: 2.6 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.0 APG, 72.7 FG% 

Gonzaga Bulldogs MVP: Ryan Nembhard

The transfer from Creighton helped with tempo and ball movement. Ryan Nembhard was one of the top players in the Big East, focused explicitly on assists. He handed out the third most assists (176) and assists per game (4.8). He had a 2.28 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Coming from the Big East, he should step into a role that will boost both numbers. Nembhard was sixth on Creighton’s team in his 3-point shooting percentage. The expectation is that he is likely a top 3 scorer on Gonzaga and will be the primary ball handler for this team. The worry is that he does not have offensive weapons like he had at Creighton.

Nembhard can do so much for this team. He creates shots, can shoot the ball from anywhere, and has a solid ability to drive the basketball to make and create good looks. Coach Few is already pumping him up on his knowledge, and with this team, it likely stands out. Nembhard can do so many things on offense and defense. He maintains composure, plays with experience, and works exceptionally well under pressure. At the end of the season, Nembhard should be averaging 15 points a game with a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Gonzaga Bulldogs make-or-break player: Graham Ike

Graham Ike was a dominant player in his sophomore season before becoming sidelined last year with a foot and leg injury. He sat out the entirety of last year, focusing on the rehab. Ike even sat out in the preseason tipoff “Kraziness in the Kennel,” but Coach Few said he would be ready for the team’s first game. He can do so many things to boost this team. Ike is the player to replace Drew Timme and has excellent footwork. He may be the biggest sleeper in the West Coast Conference for potential scoring and rebounding leader. Ike has good footwork and stays under control. If he can continue to move without the ball and reduce his dribbling or work on his ball handling, he may be an even bigger menace to the WCC.

The worry is the potential time away from the game. Ike is coming back from injury, and getting back into game shape may be an issue, especially if there are additional accessories he may be wearing. Becoming bionic, he may have lost a step and just transitioned back to the game. There will be time, but that is the worry. Ike has some big shoes to fill in Timme’s absence but is extremely capable. Coach Few may even have helped him by working with him on 3-point shooting to open up the floor even more.

Key analytic: 2-Point percentage

Gonzaga dominated last year with the fourth-best 2-point shooting percentage. The team shot 58.2% from within the arc. This number is expected to drop slightly as the 3-point shooting percentage increases. The dominant paint players of Drew Timme and Malachi Smith were the players who had success in those areas.

Similar players replace them, but Graham Ike is not as good in the arc as Timme. However, the increased playing time for Ben Gregg may help. Anton Watson is another player that allows, but Timme was just a force in the short area. This will be a stat to watch to see how this team is scoring and the efficiency, as it likely changes its playing style slightly. Coach Few has some work to do but has some success to fall back on in these transitions.

Gonzaga Bulldogs 2023-24 projections

Projected conference finish: 1st in the WCC

Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Tournament – Final Four Exit

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