Updated Gonzaga Bulldogs starting lineup and rotation following Steele Venters’ season-ending injury

The Gonzaga Bulldogs got some devastating news on Wednesday evening when it was reported Eastern Washington transfer wing Steele Venters suffered a knee injury and will miss the entire 2023-24 season, ending his first year with the Zags before it even began.

Venters is a local kid from Ellensburg, Washington who always wanted to play at Gonzaga and starred the last few years at nearby Eastern in Cheney, so getting a few days away from realizing his dream only for an injury to take him out is heartbreaking for the young man.

It’s also a tough blow to a Gonzaga team where depth isn’t exactly a strong point. Below is an updated look at my projected starting lineup and minutes distribution, with a big increase for true freshman Dusty Stromer, as well as Croatian guard Luka Krajnovic and South Korean forward Jun Seok Yeo. Plus, could we see some Anton Watson at the three?

(For more on this injury and what it means for Gonzaga, check out the Locked on Zags podcast)

Starting PG: Ryan Nembhard

Still no change here, Nembhard will scoop up nearly every single minute of action at the point guard position for Mark Few, and for good reason.

Starting SG: Nolan Hickman

Hickman looked solid, albeit unspectacular, in the exhibition win over Lewis-Clark State, but he should get plenty of chances to play off the ball this year – and will be the main point guard whenever Nembhard is on the bench.

Starting SF: Dusty Stromer

Venters’ injury means true freshman Dusty Stromer is going to step into a starting role for Gonzaga right away, and unless he really struggles or someone else steps up he is probably going to play a huge role for the Bulldogs in the 2023-24 season.

Starting PF: Anton Watson

Watson will anchor this team defensively and should have plenty of offensive value in a big role as the team’s primary power forward. He could play a few minutes at the three, I suspect Gonzaga might at least experiment with it, but wouldn’t expect to see it much despite the injury to Venters.

Starting C: Graham Ike

Ike’s minutes will likely be monitored throughout the year coming off his injury, but expect him to play 25ish minutes per night and to frequently lead the Zags in scoring, like he did on Friday in the exhibition win.

Sixth man: Luka Krajnovic

Krajnovic will also benefit from Venters’ absence, especially if Mark Few is willing to play three-guard lineups like he did in 2020-21 with Jalen Suggs, Andrew Nembhard, and Joel Ayayi. Although I don’t have it listed in the depth chart below, don’t be surprised to see Krajnovic spend some time on the court alongside both Nembhard and Hickman to help this team’s depth issues.

Seventh man: Ben Gregg

Gregg and Huff will battle for minutes behind both Watson and Ike, and I suspect they’ll each play a similar amount on any given night. Gregg’s experience gives him a slight leg up, but he’ll need to prove himself particularly on defense to stick.

Eighth man: Braden Huff

Huff looked incredible on Friday evening, although most of his minutes came against backups for a DIII school so it is worth taking with a grain of salt. Still, his activity on both ends should merit a role right away, likely behind Ike.

Ninth man: Jun Seok Yeo

Yeo isn’t quite ready for a big role, and the plan was for that to not be an issue this year, but the injury to Venters may push Yeo into more of a regular role this year anyway. I think he’ll still mostly play in garbage time while he adjusts to Division 1 college basketball, prepping for a big year in 2024-25. However, I’ve added a few minutes to his projection to help with the depth at small forward.

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