Kansas and Gonzaga finished last season ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the polls.
A potential showdown in the NCAA Tournament Final Four or title game was dashed when the event was called off because of the novel coronavirus.
The Jayhawks and Bulldogs will meet to open this season on Thanksgiving Day at the Fort Myers Tip-Off in Florida. Of course, the stakes and the stakeholders on the court are different.
Gonzaga (31-2 last season) enters this campaign at No. 1 in the preseason poll, while Kansas (28-3) is ranked sixth.
“It’s a great honor to be selected No. 1,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “We understand that it is more a reflection of what our program has accomplished over the years and hope to play up to that standard as we start our season.”
The Bulldogs took a hit when forward Filip Petrusev, last season’s West Coast Conference Player of the Year, decided to forgo his final two years of eligibility to pursue a professional career overseas. But small forward Corey Kispert, a preseason All-American, and guard Joel Ayayi return after considering the NBA draft and a talented freshman class includes guard Jalen Suggs, a top-10 prospect who is the program’s highest-ranked recruit ever.
“I wanted to be on this team. It will be in our hands,” Kispert said. “I see the talent from the freshmen to the other guys and it’s easy to want to be a part of it.”
In addition, the Zags received word Tuesday that point guard Andrew Nembhard, a transfer from Florida, has been granted a waiver by the NCAA and is eligible immediately. The Canadian national team player averaged 11.2 points and 5.6 assists for the Gators last season.
“Gonzaga checks a lot of boxes for me,” Nembhard, who picked the Zags over Duke, Georgetown, Memphis, USC and Stanford, told The Spokesman-Review newspaper this summer. “The style of play suits me, I think I can jell with the players and I feel very comfortable with the coaching staff. I think I can succeed as a player and off the court.”
The Jayhawks lost big man Udoka Azubuike and point guard Devon Dotson from a team that would’ve likely been the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed last spring.
Coach Bill Self said he’s still trying to figure out what Kansas has in a reset from a 28-win campaign last season.
“I don’t think we’re an unbelievably athletic team,” Self said. “I thought initially we could get out and pressure, but I think we can play to our length from a depth standpoint. Could we press some? Zone some? Yeah, I think we could do that, but I have not really thought about how to take advantage of our depth, other than to play hard and force others to defend.”
Senior guard Marcus Garrett, one of the nation’s top defenders, returns with juniors David McCormack, a 6-foot-10 forward, and guard Ochai Agbaji. The backcourt newcomers include junior-college transfer Tyon Grant-Foster and blue-chip prospect Bryce Thompson, whose father played for Self at Tulsa.
Forward Justin Wilson has bounced back after suffering a broken ankle as a freshman last season.
“We are missing a lot of key pieces from last year,” Wilson said, “but I think we just have a new team, a little bit younger, one that’s hungry to play. Hungry to win. And I think it’s going to be a really good year for us.”
–Field Level Media