Happy Halloween! The Gonzaga Bulldogs are just a few days away from their exhibition opener against Lewis-Clark State, and about a week and a half away from the season opener against Yale at The Kennel on Nov. 10.
In honor of the upcoming season, as well as the spookiest day of the year, I decided to write out my three “scary bold” predictions for the 2023-24 campaign.
To hear more on these predictions, check out the latest episode of Locked on Zags, linked below:
No. 1: Anton Watson leads the team in scoring, is an All-American
Watson has steadily improved his scoring each year he’s been at Gonzaga, going from 4.9 to 6.9 to 7.3 to 11.1 last season. He’s also steadily improved his three point percentage and volume of three pointers taken, and while he still has room to grow there (33.3% last year) it’s not crazy to imagine another jump up to 35+% and roughly 15-16 points per game.
No Drew Timme means more touches on the block for Watson, and going from Hickman to Ryan Nembhard at point guard should give Watson even more scoring opportunities, either on the block or in the pick and roll.
Factor in Watson’s transition ability and the lack of a go-to scorer on this team and Watson’s 16 or so points per game leading the team doesn’t seem all that bold. Nembhard and Graham Ike each figure to be in double figures as well in what could be among Gonzaga’s more balanced offensive attacks of the last decade or so.
All-American is a tougher mountain to climb, but if Watson leads Gonzaga in scoring and this team is anywhere near the top 10 in the AP poll he will get serious consideration, especially with his excellent defense, efficient offense and the lack of wings/power forwards he will be competing with for those spots.
No. 2: Nolan Hickman scores 30 points in a game…twice
Hickman’s career-high is 20 back on the road against Santa Clara last year, and across two years he has topped 15 points just four times. However, a transition back into an off-ball role should help Hickman’s offensive output in year three, with less pressure to be the team’s primary ball-handler thanks to the arrival of transfer Ryan Nembhard.
Additionally, Hickman showed he can get hot in a hurry, with a 5-6 shooting performance from deep against SMC in the WCC Tournament and multiple other games where he hit four or more threes. Hickman’s three point rate should bump up again in a different role, maybe even hovering around 40%, and an increase in two point percentage (he was 60.6% as a freshman in a two-guard role, compared to sub-50% last year) is enough for him to be a real threat to go for 20 on any given night.
If the clouds align just right and Hickman gets hot out of the gate, a couple 30 point gems seems possible and will certainly get the monkey off his back after a lot of criticism has been levied his way the past two years.
No. 3: Big East invites Gonzaga within calendar year
The Big East has a media deal through 2025, but most expect them to start renegotiating as soon as this winter. While conference leadership made it clear they are set at 11 members for now, commissioner Val Ackerman did discuss Gonzaga at media day, saying they are a natural fit for the Big East and they have stayed in contact.
Could the Big East realize, upon negotiating with FOX and CBS, that adding Gonzaga immediately gives each member institution deeper pockets? We know the Zags are among the five most watchable college basketball programs in America, with a TV power ranking just below Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, and North Carolina.
Of course, even if the Big East does decide to invite Gonzaga, they’ll have to convince them to join over the Big 12, which remains the big goal for the university. Could being in a more similar conference institutionally, and not being the only non-football school, be enough of a pull for Chris Standiford and company to accept an invite to head east? Time will tell, but don’t be surprised to see the Big East get involved here in the next 12 months.
(For more, click the link below or find Locked on Zags on your preferred podcast platform)
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.