Gonzaga lost two first-round NBA draft picks and six players from last year’s team are earning paychecks professionally, but the program’s high expectations remain.
The preseason AP college basketball poll released Monday confirmed as much with Gonzaga checking in at No. 8, matching the 2006 Zags for the program’s second highest preseason rating.
Washington received the most votes among unranked teams.
The poll is essentially guesswork with regular-season openers still two weeks away, but Gonzaga has one promising result that won’t go on its win-loss record.
Gonzaga handled Michigan State 103-87 on Saturday in a closed scrimmage. Two days later, Michigan State was voted No. 1 with 60 of 65 first-place votes from the media panel. The Spartans are followed by Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, Louisville, Florida and Maryland.
Gonzaga was No. 3 in last year’s preseason poll and climbed to No. 1 on two separate occasions during the season. The Zags finished 33-4 and reached the Elite Eight. The 2006 Zags finished 29-4 after falling to a late UCLA comeback in the Sweet 16. Gonzaga was No. 14 in the 2017 preseason poll but reached the championship game before losing to North Carolina.
Gonzaga has been in the AP preseason rankings for 10 consecutive years.
Preseason No. 1s receive considerable publicity but the last team to go from preseason No. 1 to national champion was North Carolina in 2009. The Tar Heels thumped GU in the Sweet 16 en route to the title.
The Zags have at least five matchups against Top 25 foes with the headliner against No. 9 North Carolina in the McCarthey Athletic Center on Dec. 18. Gonzaga and North Carolina also could square off on the final day of the Battle 4 Atlantis on Nov. 29.
Gonzaga’s second-round foe in the Bahamas will either be No. 12 Seton Hall or No. 15 Oregon. The Zags and No. 20 Saint Mary’s will meet twice in the regular season (Feb. 9, Feb. 29) and they seemingly collide every March in the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas.
The Zags visit No. 21 Arizona on Dec. 14. Washington, which entertains Gonzaga on Dec. 8, just missed making the Top 25. The Huskies received 164 points, 29 behind No. 25 VCU.
Alabama and Michigan also are in the receiving votes category. The Crimson Tide and Wolverines are in the opposite side of the bracket from Gonzaga in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Defending national champion Virginia is No. 11.
The Zags open the regular season against visiting Alabama State on Nov. 5. That same day, the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden features No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Kentucky and No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 4 Duke.