Kansas-Gonzaga clash would pair up 2 of college basketball's best from the past decade
Kansas versus Gonzaga. It’s a doozy of a showdown if it does in fact happen in Fort Myers, Fla., late next month.
And if we have to have something other than KU-Kentucky to open the college basketball season, this is a pretty darn good replacement.
The Jayhawks facing the Zags is a matchup we always figured could happen in late March, and it pits two of college basketball’s winningest teams of the past decade — both in the regular season and the NCAA Tournament — against each other to open the 2020-21 season.
KU is tied for third in college basketball with 24 NCAA Tournament wins in the past decade, with a national runner-up finish, another Final Four and three Elite Eights in that time.
Gonzaga is sixth in college basketball with 20 NCAA Tournament wins in that same time, with a national runner-up finish in 2017 and three Elite Eights.
In addition, these two teams, which finished 1-2 in the final Associated Press poll of the 2019-20 season, are also 1-2 in terms of overall winning percentage in the past decade, with the Zags sitting in first at .858 (308-51) and KU second at .819 (299-66).
To say these two programs have always been in the mix when it counts the most during the past 10 years is a bit of an understatement.
All of those past teams and great former players won’t be there next month, though. So let’s take a look at those players who will.
Even that is a pretty powerful matchup of top-level talent and, of course, will feature head coaches Bill Self and Mark Few on the bench.
A year after the Zags went 31-2 overall and ripped off a 19-game winning streak from Dec. 4 through Feb. 21, Few returns a good chunk of his team and has added a couple of significant reinforcements.
Picked as a top-5 team in pretty much every preseason poll — including owning the No. 3 spot in the most recent ESPN.com poll — Gonzaga features returning starters Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi.
Kispert, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound junior forward who averaged 14 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists per game last season and is a 43.8% 3-point shooter, is receiving plenty of first-team preseason All-American consideration, and likely will be counted on to boost those numbers in 2020-21.
Drew Timme, a 6-foot-10 forward who averaged 10 points and 5 rebounds a game last season while playing just 20 minutes, is expected to step into the spot vacated by All-American Filip Petrusev, who averaged 18 points and 8 rebounds last season before leaving early for the NBA draft.
According to ESPN.com’s Jeff Borzello, the key question for the Zags this season will be what kind of point guard play they get. And it looks like it will be five-star freshman Jalen Suggs (6-4, 185) who will get first crack at running the show for Few’s talented team.
Suggs was ranked No. 11 in the 2020 class per Rivals.com and No. 5 in the ESPN 100.
Redshirt freshman Anton Watson, a 6-8 forward from Spokane, Wash., is projected to round out the Zags’ starting lineup, and freshman Dominick Harris (No. 78 per Rivals) and Southern Illinois transfer Aaron Cook are expected to provide depth for Gonzaga right out of the gate.
“This team has talent, depth, versatility and experience,” wrote Borzello, who could easily have said the same thing about Kansas, which he ranked ninth in his most recent preseason poll.
“Kansas could take a slight step back after losing All-Americans Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike from last season’s team,” Borzello wrote. “But Bill Self has lost elite players before and replaced them without missing a beat. … There are a few more questions than usual in Lawrence, but Self has shown time and time again he can figure it out.”
Like KU, which appears to be on track to face Gonzaga, Kentucky, Creighton and Tennessee in a tough nonconference schedule, the Zags also have lined up a bunch of challenging nonconference games, with Kansas, potential preseason No. 1 Baylor, Iowa, Auburn and Tennessee all on their schedule.
Both teams will be battled tested entering conference play and they may very well still be standing at the end of the season, as well.
What better way to prepare for all of that than by facing each other in the season opener?