Gonzaga went from having another NCAA tournament team to harboring legitimate Final Four aspirations when Jeremy Pargo chose to pull out of the draft and stick around for his senior year. Without Pargo, the 'Zags still would have had plenty of weapons. In fact, they may have the most talented group of players in school history. Pargo is the team's engine and the kind of difference-maker who cannot be replaced. An explosive 6-2 point guard, Pargo is too quick for most defenders. Much of the Gonzaga offense is generated by the veteran's ability to attack the basket and create transition opportunities. For the Bulldogs to make some noise in the postseason, Pargo needs to improve his decision-making and become a little more consistent.
Gonzaga point guard Jeremy Pargo is a threat both as a scorer and passer.
Having sophomore shooting guard Steven Gray, a former top-75 prospect, healthy for the start of the year should provide a big boost. A terrific outside shooter, Gray missed the first 10 games last season because of a fractured wrist. Gray still managed to shoot 46.3 percent (37 of 80) from 3-point range. He will benefit from Pargo's ability to penetrate and kick the ball out, and Gray could emerge as one of the nation's top 3-point shooters.
Senior wing Micah Downs will either start or be the first man off the bench and will often be used with Gray and Pargo. A former McDonald's All-American, the 6-8 Downs can create matchup problems. However, he has struggled to get involved at times in the past. The well-balanced 'Zags need him to be steadier and provide some production off the bench.
Freshman point guard Demetri Goodson probably will work his way into the rotation early. The No. 132-ranked prospect in the 2008 class, Goodson could help keep Pargo fresher for the postseason.
Gonzaga lost a pair of big men, but they still boast the top frontcourt in the West Coast Conference. The group could be one of the best in the nation. The unit includes a versatile swingman, a future first-round pick and a former first-team all-league center.
The first description fits underrated small forward Matt Bouldin. The well-rounded junior, who led the team in scoring last season, has a high basketball IQ. While he isn't great in any area, he's above average in just about every area.
Sophomore power forward Austin Daye is loaded with NBA potential. At 6-10, Daye has long arms, can shoot from the outside and runs the court well. Daye came off the bench last season and was third on the team in scoring and first in blocks. Daye will slide into David Pendergraft's old starting spot and have a breakthrough year. More than anything, the Bulldogs need him to be a better rebounder.
Senior center Josh Heytvelt (6-11) was one of the nation's top big men two seasons ago when he averaged 15.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks a game. Last season those numbers slipped to 10.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 0.7 blocks. Heytvelt missed the first 11 games with a broken foot and never seemed to get comfortable. The veteran had offseason surgery on the foot. If he can regain his old form, the Bulldogs will be much better on both ends of the floor.
The loss of Pendergraft and reserve center Abdullahi Kuso, who combined to average 14.7 points and 8.4 rebounds, does cut into the interior depth. A big man needs to step up and become a quality backup for Daye and Heytvelt. The top candidate is 7-foot Canadian Robert Sacre, who did play heavy minutes in the non-conference part of the schedule last season.
The Bulldogs will look to score in transition as much as possible. Pargo is great in the open court and has an athletic supporting cast to take advantage of this season. In halfcourt sets, they work hard to get the ball to the open man and rely on balance - making it difficult for defenses to focus on any one player.
Gonzaga has been to 10 consecutive NCAA tournaments, and that streak is not in jeopardy of coming to an end. Four starters return from a team that went 13-1 in what was the deepest year ever in the West Coast Conference (which sent a record three teams to the NCAA tournament). But another one-and-done trip in the field of 65, which is how the last two seasons have ended, won't be satisfying this time. They've got a difference-maker in Pargo, Daye is poised for a breakthrough year, and having Gray and Heytvelt fully healthy will be a big lift. Anything short of a trip to the Sweet 16 should be considered a disappointment.
Coach Mark Few primarily sticks to man-to-man, but has mixed in a variety of zones in the past. With more experience and size than most of his previous teams, expect a heavier - and more effective - dose of man-to-man.
Shoes to Fill
David Pendergraft. This departed veteran was a glue guy and handled a good bit of the dirty work down low.
Must Step Up
Heytvelt. If the 'Zags are going to reach all of their lofty goals, Heytvelt must return to his sophomore form when he would take over games. In 2006-07, Heytvelt outplayed UNC star Tyler Hansbrough in a head-to-head matchup and also had 27 points and 22 rebounds against Pepperdine. Those are the kind of performances that can elevate Gonzaga into a Final Four contender.
Goodson. Gonzaga has a long run of great point guards, and this three-star recruit could be the next one. He's a good ball-handler, and learning under Pargo should speed up his development..
Andrew Skwara is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.