The 2022-23 college basketball season is less than two months away, and the first glimpse of the Gonzaga Bulldogs will take place four Saturday’s from now at Kraziness in the Kennel on October 8.
A myriad of factors, including new rules regarding the NCAA transfer portal, NIL earnings, COVID-19 eligibility, and the NBA’s disinterest in certain player archetypes who thrive in college has set up an upcoming season full of intrigue. Many of the game’s biggest stars are back in action next season, including Drew Timme, Oscar Tshiebwe, Armando Bacot, and Hunter Dickinson.
However, when Brian Hamilton of The Athletic set out to write about the 20 most intriguing players in college basketball this upcoming season, he wasn’t looking for Timme’s and Bacot’s. Instead, he was looking for players who have the potential to massively impact their team or the college basketball landscape at large, but who aren’t necessarily guaranteed to do so the way Timme and company will.
And the results included a trio of Gonzaga Bulldogs, not a surprise considering the excitement surrounding this team, as well as some uncertainty around who will play and where.
First up is Julian Strawther, who came in at No. 20 on Hamilton’s list. Hamilton mentioned Strawther having the best extended track record on the team outside of Timme (ed: note, Bolton?) and discussed a few things we could see from him this upcoming season:
If there’s a Junior Leap version of the proverbial Sophomore Leap, the growth of the 6-foot-7 former top 60 recruit tracks accordingly. The key might be Strawther diversifying his repertoire, and dealing better with defensive attention, in order to rise to “problematic” levels. Of his 271 shot attempts in 2021-22, 155 were jumpers, per Synergy Sports. The data shows only 14 possessions all season in which Strawther drove off a spot-up. He’s a good finisher (1.385 PPP on at-the-rim shots), but can he get to spots off the bounce? He also made just 26.1 percent of his guarded jumpers; can he be efficient when a game plan keys on him? With a spot in the first round of The Athletic’s first 2023 NBA mock draft, it would seem evaluators bet Strawther can develop into that guy. It’s probably a decent bet.Brian Hamilton, The Athletic
I’m not sure Strawther is going to get a chance to show more against contested jumpers, it’s just not really a part of Gonzaga’s offense and I don’t see any reason game plans will key on him as long as Drew Timme (and an excellent supporting cast) are still in the mix. Still, there are plenty of reasons to be very excited about what Strawther will bring to this team in year three.
Next up on the list is the sophomore guard duo of Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman, who each came in at No. 12.
Hamilton lumps them together thanks to their similar production in year one, and he acknowledges at least one of them probably needs to take the “sophomore leap” for this team to have the depth necessary to return to the Final 4.
It’s unclear whether both, none, or one of these guys will start for Mark Few’s squad next season, with multiple factors at play. Hickman is the more traditional point guard, which could give him the edge if the Zags want Malachi Smith to play more off the ball. If Smith can handle true point guard duties, Sallis’ tenacious defense and otherworldly athleticism would be a wonderful addition to Gonzaga’s starting core.
College basketball isn’t quite back yet, but this Gonzaga team has given fans plenty to ponder as we await the return of Zombie Nation, cheesy Northern Quest commercials, friendly(?) bickering between Greg Heister and Dan Dickau, and everything else that comes with GU hoops.
Andy hosts the Locked on Zags and Locked on College Basketball podcasts, and serves Locked On in a marketing/digital content creator role as well. He lives just outside Portland with his wife Jenna and dog, Tillie.