If there is a team that plays a tougher non-conference schedule than the Gonzaga Bulldogs, I'm not sure where they play.
However, if there is a team that needs to play this type of schedule, it's them.
No longer a trendy little mid-major, the 'Zags always figure into the national picture and this season will be tested early and often to see just where they stand.
Let's see: San Diego State, Kansas State, Duke or Marquette, Illinois, Washington State, Notre Dame, Baylor, Xavier, Oklahoma State, Wake Forest, and of course, the mid-season game with Memphis.
Four of these games are at home (and one in Seattle, which is a virtual home game) while three are on the road (plus one in Dallas against Baylor and another in Kansas City against K-State), with one true neutral site game (winner/loser of Duke/Marquette).
This may seem like a punishing schedule because it is. But with the lack of depth in the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga needs to play (and win, hopefully) a good share of these games to maintain a solid RPI. Last year's team was solid but dropped a couple of conference games, lost the tournament final, and were subsequently handed an eight seed in the NCAA tournament.
This is the reality for the Gonzagas and the St. Marys of the college basketball world. They need to make their hay early and often due to the lack of high quality opponents during the last half of their respective seasons.
The Bulldogs lost Matt Bouldin, who did a lot of everything but wasn't particularly flashy about it. Grant Gibbs has transferred to Creighton as well. But there are still high hopes for this year's team.
Steven Gray, Elias Harris, Robert Sacre, and Demetri Goodson are returning starters from last year's team. Kelly Olynyk had an outstanding World tournament for Canada this past summer. Manny Arop should be recovered from a foot injury suffered toward the end of last season. And, according to some, redshirt freshman Sam Dower is ready to contribute immediately.
The front court will be as good as any in the country. The back court is lacking some depth. Gray is solid but Goodson is inconsistent. Developing other options at guard (JC transfer Marquise Carter, Mathis Keita, Mike Hart, Keegan Hyland, David Stockton) will be a huge key this year.
With steady guard play, the 'Zags could be a top-15 team and be much more than an eight seed come March.
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