What's next for Gonzaga men's basketball after title run fell short?
The sting of losing in the men's NCAA Tournament championship game for a second time in five years will last in Spokane, Washington, longer than March Madness.
In the long term, it's not a matter of whether Gonzaga will get another opportunity to cut the nets in April. It's a matter of when they will hoist the trophy.
Coach Mark Few will be in his 22nd season as the Bulldogs coach when the sound of bouncing basketballs echoing off gym walls will be heard again. An Oregon native who is comfortable in the Pacific Northwest is the only program he's ever known from a coaching chair isn't going anywhere. And why should he? In two decades, Few has built this mid-major from the ground up and watched as the once-Cinderella blossomed into a tournament mainstay. The only piece to his legacy missing is a title, and it will come.
There's a ton of talent on this team and many of these players will throw their hat in the NBA draft ring. But Few won't have any trouble finding more talent and getting more chances.
So, how might the 2021-22 season take shape?
Gonzaga’s lineup will look quite a bit different.
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That is hardly new in the sport, of course. The Bulldogs had to replace three starters from last year, as well. But Few and his staff have had considerable success developing talent over the years, and the program has now reached the point at which highly-rated recruits see the school as a viable option.
This brings us to the first likely departure. It is all but certain that freshman sensation Jalen Suggs will be off to the NBA. Suggs, the lynchpin of this group, will be remembered for his buzzer-beater from near halfcourt that lifted the Bulldogs past UCLA in overtime in the national semifinals. But another five-star talent with a similar game is on his way. Hunter Sallis, a 6-5 prospect from Omaha, Nebraska, announced his commitment to Gonzaga earlier this season.
While Suggs is expected to move on, a couple of his classmates, guards Julian Strawther and Dominick Harris, figure to see more playing time as sophomores.
Corey Kispert, a 6-7 forward, also is expected to leave. His name is popping up on draft boards as a top-10 lottery pick and while the senior would be eligible for an extra year the NCAA would grant because of the pandemic, now is the time for Kispert to make the jump.
Upperclassmen Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard would have another year of eligibility if they choose to return, as does Aaron Cook, though none have formally announced their plans.
After struggling in the loss against Baylor, Drew Timme could also elect to move on after his breakout sophomore season. If he does return as expected, Timme would become the offensive centerpiece after more than 19 points per game in 2020-21. Another freshman, 6-9 forward Kaden Perry, arrives this fall with the recruiting class.
There's no reason to think the Bulldogs' run is going to end. Gonzaga is the first program in Division I history to win 30 or more games in five consecutive seasons, hitting that mark in seven of the past eight years. Despite two heartbreaks in the championship game, Few has lost just 14 games in the past five seasons.
In short, Gonzaga isn’t going anywhere.
Contributing: Paul Myerberg, Heather Tucker
Follow colleges reporter Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus