Gonzaga is strong again (of course) while FAU and SDSU try to fight back

FAU coach Dusty May is bringing back all five starters from last year's Final Four team this fall.

FAU coach Dusty May is bringing back all five starters from last year’s Final Four team this fall. (Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images) (Jamie Schwaberow via Getty Images)

The 2023-24 men’s college basketball season begins November 6th. Check back every day this week as we break down the biggest conferences, teams and more leading up to the season. Check out our previews the Big 12, the ACC, the Big Ten, this, the Great East And the Pac-12.

It’s not necessarily fair to group this final group of teams together, as there are plenty of mid-major schools that can compete in March – including Penny Hardaway’s team in Memphis or even Drake in the MVC.

But first, let’s take a look at Gonzaga, Florida Atlantic and San Diego State, who are coming off a trip to the national title game earlier this year. These three programs, especially Gonzaga, are by far the best positioned to compete with the best major programs across the country this season.

Mid-major team rankings

No. 10 Florida Atlantic (AAC)

No. 11 Gonzaga (WCC)

No. 17 San Diego State (Mountain West)

#23 Saint Mary’s (WCC)

Others receiving votes: Memphis (7) (AAC), Boise St. (4) (Mountain West), Charleston (2) (CAA), New Mexico (1) (Mountain West), Drake (1) (MVC)

Remarkable odds for the national championship

Odds via BetMGM

Gonzaga +3000

FAU +5000

Memphis +6000

SDSU +8000

Gonzaga is back after (finally) losing Drew Timme

This will be the first season without Drew Timme in Spokane in what feels like forever. Still, Mark Few reloaded as best he could.

The Zags bring back senior forward Anton Watson, who averaged 11.1 points and 6.2 rebounds last season and helped them reach the Elite Eight in his first season as a true starter. Guard Nolan Hickman is also back in his second year after a very solid season.

What was most notable, however, was how hard Few hit the transfer market. He brought in Steele Venters from Eastern Washington, center Grahm Ike from Wyoming and Ryan Nembhard from Creighton. Nembhard led the Bluejays through two fairly dominant seasons in the Big East, averaging 12.1 points and 4.8 assists last season, helping them get to the Elite Eight. He should mesh well with Hickman in the backcourt.

“It’s unbelievable how strong Ryan Nembhard’s feel for the game is,” Few said on media day. . “The way he places himself with pace, the impact he’s already had on Nolan Hickman… that’s been a hugely positive addition for us.

“He’s phenomenal, he just is. Above all, he is a great player and a great point guard. I think he’s the best point guard in all of college basketball.”

Venters was the Big Sky Player of the Year after scoring 15.3 points last season at Eastern Washington. He will look to follow in the footsteps of Julian Strawther, who left in the NBA draft earlier this year. And despite overcoming a leg injury that sidelined him last season, Ike was a dominant force inside the Mountain West during the 2021-22 season.

But as always, the Bulldogs have a wild non-conference schedule before heading into WCC play. They first face No. 3 Purdue in the Maui Invitational and could face No. 9 Tennessee, Syracuse, No. 1 Kansas, No. 5 Marquette or UCLA in Hawaii. They will also see No. 21 USC and No. 6 UConn on their non-conference slate.

Gonzaga will need a big showing right away to make their mark on the selection committee. So we’ll see how well this new group works together pretty quickly.

Ryan Nembhard transferred to Gonzaga last offseason after two dominant runs at Creighton.

Ryan Nembhard transferred to Gonzaga last offseason after two dominant runs at Creighton. (AP/Young Kwak) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

FAU is the immediate favorite in the AAC with two candidates for Player of the Year

Like SDSU, Florida Atlantic had a wild run to the Final Four last season.

However, instead of just being a one-off Cinderella team in March, the Owls are bringing almost their entire team back and are ready to win it back.

FAU returns all five starters from last year’s team, which went 35-4 and missed the national championship game after falling on the wrong side of a buzzer-beater in the Final Four.

Johnell Davis led the Owls with 13.8 points and 5.4 rebounds last season, and guard Alijah Martin was right behind him with 13.4 points. The two were named co-winners of preseason player of the year in the American Athletic Conference, where the Owls will play for the first time this fall after making the jump from CUSA. FAU was the immediate favorite to win the conference in the preseason, receiving 11 first-place votes and finishing ahead of Memphis.

While the American is no longer making as big of a jump over CUSA, FAU has a very strong non-conference schedule – something that didn’t exist at all last season. The Owls face No. 25 Illinois, No. 12 Arizona and could face Texas A&M and Iowa State in the ESPN Events Invitational tournament. They didn’t play a ranked team at all last season.

The Owls already proved they can win in March. After all, they reached the Final Four as a No. 9 seed and could easily do it again with almost their entire team back. But with a stronger conference and tougher opponents early on, a four-loss season may not be in the cards. If things go wrong early, FAU could quickly fall from the 10th spot it started the season in.

SDSU favorite again after national championship game run

San Diego State made a remarkable run to the national championship game in April, but the Aztecs were knocked out by UConn in the title game.

Despite losing Matt Bradley, the Aztecs are still favorites to win the Mountain West and should be a tournament team in March. Darion Trammell is back after averaging 9.8 points per game last season, second only to Bradley. Lamont Butler, who hit the buzzer to beat FAU in the Final Four, is also back for his senior season. Butler was right behind Trammell at 8.8 points per game, and the two should thrive together in the backcourt. However, they lost forward Keshad Johnson to Arizona in the offseason.

It will take a lot to repeat the program’s best season to date. But with early matchups against BYU, No. 23 Saint Mary’s, Cal, Stanford and No. 11 Gonzaga, we should know pretty quickly which SDSU team we’ll be seeing this time around.

Notable early games

All times ET | * Neutral site game

November 10th

No. 17 San Diego State at BYU | TBD | ESPN+

November 17th

No. 23 Saint Mary’s at No. 17 San Diego State | 9:30 p.m. | ESPN+ *

20th November

No. 3 Purdue at No. 11 Gonzaga | 5 p.m. | ESPN2*

November 23rd

No. 10 FAU at Butler | 2:30 p.m. | ESPN2*

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