Gonzaga has reached the Sweet 16 in five straight seasons, the longest active streak in the nation.
However, the roster is changing, and the Bulldogs hope some new stars emerge, beginning with Tuesday’s season-opening contest against visiting Alabama State at Spokane, Wash.
No. 8 Gonzaga returns one starter — junior forward Corey Kispert — from last season’s 33-4 squad, and its expected top player might not play in the opener.
Senior forward Killian Tillie underwent knee surgery approximately one month ago, and he is listed as questionable.
“He’s running, jumping, shooting, just not ready to go full bore yet,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few told reporters of Tillie. “We just have to be patient.”
Tillie endured a troublesome campaign last season when he suffered a preseason ankle injury and later was sidelined by a February foot injury.
He was limited to 15 games and averaged just 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds. That was quite a drop-off from his sophomore campaign, when Tillie averaged 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds and shot 58 percent from the field.
Kispert is the team’s leading returning scorer at 8.0 points per game and was second on the team with 61 3-pointers. He will get more opportunities to shoot with the squad in transition after Gonzaga lost key cogs Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke to the NBA.
The Bulldogs will be breaking in a new starting backcourt consisting of senior transfers Ryan Woolridge (North Texas) and Admon Gilder (Texas A&M).
Woolridge, who will be the point guard, is just getting back into full shape after knee surgery in April. Gilder was unavailable last season due to a blood clot.
Woolridge started 76 games in three seasons at North Texas and averaged 11.6 points, 4.9 assists and 1.7 steals. He will be asked to help minimize the loss of four-year starter Josh Perkins.
Gilder, replaces Zach Norvell Jr., was a two-year starter during his three seasons at Texas A&M. He averaged 10.8 points, 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals and knocked down 140 3-pointers for the Aggies.
Gilder is looking forward to being back in the mix.
“I’m ready for it, that’s what we prepare for all summer,” Gilder told reporters. “It’s college basketball. We came to Gonzaga for a reason. We’re going to go out and do our job.”
Alabama State enters its opener coming off a 12-19 season.
The Hornets play their first 15 games on the road (11) or neutral courts (four) and won’t play their first home game until Jan. 11. The stretch includes games at Tennessee, Kansas State and Oregon.
“We want to play the best, and there are some things that we can pick up in these types of games,” Alabama State coach Lewis Jackson said. “We can work on our offense and improve from game to game — those are big steps for us heading into conference. We have a good core of guys here who are mentally tough, and they are going to go in with the mindset of winning.”
Junior guard Jacoby Ross is the Hornets’ top returning player, and he is a second-team selection on the preseason All-SWAC team. The 5-foot-9 Ross averaged 12.6 points and 2.3 assists last season while recording a team-best total of 68 3-pointers and 83.5 percent accuracy from the free-throw line.
Senior swingman Leon Daniels could be in line to be more of a contributor after averaging 9.5 points and 3.8 rebounds and making 45 treys last season.
Alabama State went 4-13 on the road and 0-3 on neutral courts last season.
–Field Level Media