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October 19, 2006

Life without Adam Morrison

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Rivals.com selected the top 25 storylines for the upcoming 2006-07 college basketball season and will be releasing articles daily, counting down from No. 25 to No. 1. The No. 20 storyline focuses on how Gonzaga will move on without departed star Adam Morrison.

Gonzaga fans can keep their fake mustaches at home this winter. Find a safe spot for them. They could be collectors' items someday.

Adam Morrison and his pencil-thin stache are in the NBA.

Morrison was the best player in school history - and perhaps the best player in college basketball in 2005-06. He averaged an NCAA-high 28.4 points per game and collected a handful of national player of the year awards.

So, where does the premier mid-major program turn after losing their beloved star? Before they can begin answering that, they must answer another question: How will they replace big man J.P. Batista?

The massive center (6-foot-9, 270 pounds) was a key force down low, averaging 19.3 points and a team-high 9.4 rebounds. He and Morrison combined for 60 percent of a 'Zags offense that carried the team to a 29-4 record and a trip to the Sweet 16.

So, the real question is, how do they replace Morrison and Batista?

Gonzaga doesn't have a dominating player like either of those two, but they do have talent. The Zags may also have more depth, thanks to a group of talented transfers and freshmen, so more balance may be the key to success this season.

Three starters are back, including point guard Derek Raivio. The senior should be able to handle a bigger scoring load after averaging 11.1 points as the team's third option last season.

Senior power forward Sean Mallon (6-9, 218) will also slide into a bigger role after averaging 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds.

Mallon heads up a young frontcourt with plenty of size and potential, but also a lot of question marks.

Sophomore Josh Heytvelt (6-11, 238) was hampered by injures most of last season and played a limited role.

BYU transfer Dave Burgess (6-10, 270), was ranked among the nation's top 15 centers coming out of high school, but has played briefly in just five college games and has a history of health problems. Burgess had surgery on both ankles his freshman year and transferred in midseason last year. He'll be eligible on Dec. 16, in time for Gonzaga's home game versus Virginia on Dec. 17.

Lanky freshman Theo Davis (6-9, 198), who was once a top 40 recruit, might possesses the most promise of the bunch, but a recent shoulder injury will likely keep him out for the season.

Junior college transfer Abullah Kuso (6-9, 228) is also in the mix. Originally from Nigeria, Kuso was at Rutgers prior to his transfer.

There's also 7-3 freshman Will Foster, the tallest player in college basketball.

The backcourt is more tested. Junior shooting guard Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes, a defensive specialist, started 31 games last season. Sophomore combo guard Jeremy Pargo, another top-100 recruit, averaged 17 minutes a game.

Freshman wing Matt Bouldin (6-5, 205), ranked the No. 45 prospect in the class of 2006, has the size and shooting range to help immediately.

"Matt might not have a huge year in any one statistical category, but look for his versatile and heady play to be an intergal part of the Gonzaga attack," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer said. "He can play the one through the three and look for him to start at the three alongside Raivio and Pargo. Matt will rebound, knock down shots, set up shooters and make plays in general."

The most talented weapon is Kansas transfer Micah Downs. He is an athletic shooting guard who was a five-star recruit and a McDonald's All-American. He'll also be eligible on Dec. 16.

After relying on Morrison and Batista for so long - and with the addition of so many newcomers - it remains to be seen how the playing rotation will end up this season. However, it's clear the Zags will need many players to contribute early.

Gonzaga has put together a daunting non-conference schedule that appears to rank among the nation's toughest. The Bulldogs play host to Eastern Washington and Rodney Stuckey - perhaps the best player in the mid-major ranks - on Nov. 10. Then, they begin play in the preseason NIT with a field that includes Indiana, North Carolina and Tennessee.

There are also neutral site games versus Georgia (in Atlanta), Nevada (Seattle), Texas (in Phoenix) and Duke (in New York City). They also have home matchups with Memphis and Washington and a road trip to Stanford.

If they survive that stretch and reach a ninth consecutive NCAA Tournament, the questions about replacing Morrison and Batista - will stop being asked.



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