The Gonzaga Bulldogs almost secured the preseason No. 1 ranking for a third consecutive season, but will have to settle for No. 2 behind the North Carolina Tar Heels after Monday’s AP poll release.
The Tar Heels were the national runner-up last year, and they return Armando Bacot, Caleb Love, Leaky Black, and R.J. Davis while adding high-profile transfer Pete Nance.
As expected, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Houston, Kentucky, and Baylor were the top five, although the order was anyone’s guess. Houston returns Marcus Sasser and has a high profile recruiting class. Kentucky has a pair of superstar freshman joining John Calipari’s squad, while Scott Drew and the Baylor Bears continue to reload with freshman guard Keyonte George.
While this breaks the streak of being the No. 1 ranked preseason team, Gonzaga’s streak in the top five now extends to 51 weeks – the third largest streak in AP Poll history.
The only longer streaks are Kansas (61 from 1995-1998) and UCLA’s ridiculous run of 149 weeks, spanning nine years between 1967-1976.
Gonzaga’s non-conference schedule looks even more impressive following the poll reveal. The Zags will face No. 4 Kentucky (11/20) No. 5 Baylor (12/2) No. 12 Texas (11/16) and No. 20 Alabama (12/17). They also have No. 11 Tennessee on Oct. 28 in a scrimmage, and could face No. 7 Duke in the PK85 championship.
The Zags will also face either Purdue (receiving votes) or West Virginia in the second round of the PK85, and face a dangerous Michigan State team on November 11.
Mark Few clearly doesn’t want any excuses this season, and a rigorous non-conference slate, with many of the games happening early in the season, will test this team’s resolve right out of the gate.
Whether that leads to a more polished, prepared unit in March remains to be seen, but this team will have already endured a tournament-like stretch of games when the big dance gets underway. Hard to imagine that doesn’t help them when the time comes.
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.