Thanks to a modest non-conference schedule and a couple of unexpected losses, Gonzaga enters WCC play this season with an unusually small margin for error if it wants to wrap up an NCAA bid without relying on winning its league tournament.
The Zags' task became even more daunting on Monday when they learned they would be without a key starter for at least the first half of the WCC schedule.
Gary Bell, Gonzaga's third-leading scorer and top perimeter defender, is out indefinitely after tests confirmed he broke a bone in his right hand Saturday against Santa Clara, Mark Few reportedly said on his radio show Monday. ESPN.com reported the time-table for Bell's return is roughly 4 to 6 weeks, an estimate that makes sense based on the history of players suffering similar injuries.
Gonzaga will miss Bell's 12.7 points per game and 47.6 percent 3-point shooting, but his absence will most be felt on the defensive end of the court. With undersized Kevin Pangos and David Stockton both playing heavy minutes together this season, the responsibility of guarding the opposing team's top perimeter scorer always went to speedier, slightly bigger Bell.
Bell's injury is ill-timed for Gonzaga because it's already without starting power forward Sam Dower after took a nasty fall on his back against Kansas State last week. Dower missed Gonzaga's WCC opener against Santa Clara on Saturday and is not expected to play against San Francisco tonight.
Without Bell, it's likely Gerard Coleman will move into the starting lineup and Drew Barham, Kyle Draginis and Angel Nunez will see more minutes. Coleman is a slasher who can get to the rim and finish in transition, but he is not nearly as good a shooter or defender as Bell.
The lone silver lining to Bell's injury is Gonzaga's first-half schedule in WCC play is far easier than its second half. The Zags open with four home games and get BYU and Saint Mary's both at home the first time through the double round-robin.
Nonetheless, Gonzaga's margin for error is slim enough that it puts its NCAA tournament hopes in further jeopardy having to play that long without Bell. The Zags need him back for the Memphis game on Feb. 8 and perhaps sooner than that.