No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 6 Kansas tangle in top Thanksgiving tilt
Kansas and Gonzaga finished last season in 1st and 2nd place in the polls, respectively.
A possible showdown in the NCAA Final Four tournament or in the title game was interrupted when the event was canceled due to the novel corona virus.
The Jayhawks and Bulldogs will be gathering to kick off this season on Thanksgiving at Fort Myers Tip-Off in Florida. Of course, the stakes and the stakeholders on the pitch are different.
Gonzaga (31-2 last season) ranks # 1 in the preseason poll for this campaign, while Kansas (28-3) ranks sixth.
"It's a great honor to be selected as number 1," said Bulldogs trainer Mark Few. "We understand that it is more of a reflection of what our program has achieved over the years and we hope to live up to that standard as our season begins."
The Bulldogs had a hit when striker Filip Petrusev, West Coast Conference Player of the Year last season, decided to forego his last two years for a professional career overseas. But little striker Corey Kispert, a preseason All-American, and security guard Joel Ayayi are returning after pondering the NBA draft, and a talented freshman class includes security guard Jalen Suggs, a top 10 -Candidate who is the top ranked recruit in the program.
"I wanted to be on this team. It will be in our hands," said Kispert. "I see talent from the newbies to the other guys and it's easy to want to be a part of it."
Additionally, the Zags received news Tuesday that point guard Andrew Nembhard, a Florida transfer, has received a waiver from the NCAA and is immediately eligible. The Canadian international averaged 11.2 points and 5.6 assists for the Gators last season.
"Gonzaga checks a lot of boxes for me," Nembhard, who picked the Zags across Duke, Georgetown, Memphis, USC, and Stanford, told The Spokesman Review this summer. "The style of play suits me. I think I can play with the players and I'm very comfortable with the coaching staff. I think I can be successful as a player and off the field."
The Jayhawks lost tall man Udoka Azubuike and point guard Devon Dotson from a team that would likely have been number 1 in the NCAA tournament last spring.
Coach Bill Self said he's still trying to figure out what Kansas got in a reset from a 28-win campaign last season.
"I don't think we're an incredibly athletic team," said Self. "I initially thought we could get out and put pressure but I think we can play to our length from a depth standpoint. Could we push some? Zone some? Yeah, I think we could do that but I really haven't thought about how to exploit our depth other than playing hard and forcing others to defend. "
Senior Guard Marcus Garrett, one of the nation's top defenders, returns with junior David McCormack, a 6-foot-10 striker, and guard Ochai Agbaji. Newcomers on the back seat include junior college transfer Tyon Grant-Foster and blue-chip prospect Bryce Thompson, whose father played for Self at Tulsa.
Striker Justin Wilson has rebounded after breaking an ankle as a freshman last season.
"We miss a lot of key pieces from last year," said Wilson, "but I think we just have a new team, a bit younger, that is hungry to play. Hungry to win. And I think it will be." A really good year for us. "
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