Gonzaga cements itself as preseason top five team with addition of key grad transfer

North Dakota guard Geno Crandall (0) walks on the court during overtime in an NCAA college basketball game against Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

When his team faced unheralded North Dakota last December in Spokane, Gonzaga coach Mark Few received a firsthand glimpse of Geno Crandall’s scoring prowess.

The 6-foot-4 guard torched the Zags for 28 points, five assists and five rebounds as the Fighting Hawks pushed heavily favored Gonzaga to overtime before falling 89-83.

Few won’t have to worry about devising a plan to limit Crandall next year because the coveted grad transfer will be on his team instead. Crandall announced Thursday on Twitter that he has committed to Gonzaga, choosing the Zags over fellow finalists Xavier and Minnesota.

Who is Geno Crandall?

Once an unheralded recruit who played on three state championship teams at De La Salle High School in Minneapolis yet received only two scholarship offers, Crandall blossomed into a two-time all-Big Sky performer at North Dakota.

He averaged 15.5 points and 4.4 assists per game as a sophomore, helping North Dakota reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history in 2017. The Fighting Hawks sunk to the bottom half of the Big Sky last season, but Crandall again excelled, increasing his scoring average to 16.6 points per game while also shooting 50.3 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from behind the arc.

What will Crandall’s role be at Gonzaga?

Gonzaga has been searching for another guard the past few months to fill the void left by graduated senior Silas Melson. The Zags lost out to Arizona on heralded point guard prospect Brandon Williams in April and then swung and missed on a couple of grad transfer options before Crandall became available.

The biggest way that Crandall could contribute for Gonzaga is by providing perimeter scoring and by easing the pressure on senior point guard Josh Perkins to be Gonzaga’s primary playmaker. Crandall can play alongside Perkins and wing Zach Norvell in a three-guard set or serve as the primary point guard when Perkins goes to the bench.

One concern about Crandall is that he has tallied nearly as many turnovers as assists the past two seasons at North Dakota. Gonzaga will have to train Crandall to play more within himself on a team that features NBA prospects Norvell, Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie, as well as versatile San Jose State transfer Brandon Clarke.

How highly ranked will Gonzaga now be ranked in the preseason?

If Crandall can cut down his turnovers and ease the pressure on Perkins, Gonzaga should be a strong contender to return to the Final Four for the second time in three years.

The Zags return all but two key players from last season’s 32-win Sweet 16 team and Crandall and Clarke should help replace Melson and Johnathan Williams. Gonzaga will likely start behind Kentucky and Kansas in next year’s preseason polls, but it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see the Zags check in as high as No. 3.

 

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!