NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament South Regional-Princeton vs Creighton

Gonzaga had a big morning on Friday, landing a commitment from one of the most impactful names in the transfer portal as Creighton star Ryan Nembhard committed to the Bulldogs. Nembhard's commitment came shortly after Gonzaga also added Wyoming transfer Graham Ike to its incoming class, helping reshape what the Zags' roster will look like entering 2023-24. 

Nembhard, a former five-star recruit, spent two seasons at Creighton where he averaged 11.8 points and 4.6 assists per game for the Bluejays before hitting the portal in the offseason. His commitment gives Gonzaga a second Nembhard to build around after his older brother, Andrew, played under Mark Few from 2020-2022, twice earning All-WCC honors before going on to be the No. 31 overall pick of the 2022 NBA draft.

"Of course my brother had been telling me for years what a great coach Mark [Few] was," Nembhard told ESPN about his commitment. "And it's obvious Andrew was well prepared for the NBA by Coach Few and all the staff at Gonzaga the two years he was there; he started more games this year as a rookie than any other Pacers rookie has started in over 20 years.

A Montverde Academy product, Nembhard was a four-star prospect in the 2021 class who signed with Creighton over offers from Ohio State, Seton Hall and Florida, among others. His older brother signed with the Gators out of high school before transferring to Gonzaga after two seasons.

The younger Nembhard also joins Gonzaga after two seasons at Creighton where he made his mark as one of the most impactful and underrated lead guards in the Big East. He made 64 starts in 64 appearances and twice finished top-10 in the league in assist rate during conference play. The Bluejays won 47 games across his two seasons and advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in the expansion era as Nembhard propelled them to a deep tournament run, averaging 14 points and 3.5 assists per game in four NCAA Tournament appearances highlighted by a 30-point explosion in Round 2 to take down No. 3 seed Baylor.

Nembhard is the fifth player to commit to Gonzaga in the 2023 cycle and third to pick the program out of the portal, joining Eastern Washington combo guard Steele Venters and the aforementioned Ike out of Wyoming. Venters was the Player of the Year in the Big Sky last season and a two-time All-Big Sky performer, while Ike redshirted last season due to injury a year after earning All-Mountain West honors in 2021-22. 

What this means for Gonzaga

Gonzaga is retooling this offseason in a big way and facing more uncertainty than it has in years. Not only is all-everything big man Drew Timme gone, but so too is second-leading scorer Julian Strawther, third-leading scorer Anton Watson and fourth-leading scorer Rasir Bolton. Reserve big man Efton Reid and combo guard Hunter Sallis, both former five-star prospects, are also transferring out.

With Nembhard in the mix, Gonzaga can build around a big name and proven producer while, perhaps most importantly, stabilizing its guard position. Despite building the No. 1 offense in adjusted efficiency ratings last season, Gonzaga struggled to consistently get quality playmaking from its lead guard spot, with Timme -- a 6-foot-10 center -- finishing as the team leader in assists per game.

Return of tempo

In 2020 and 2021, Gonzaga finished top 10 in the country in adjusted tempo and top five in average possession length on offense, winning 59 games and losing just five times behind one of the most lethal -- and quickest -- attacks in the sport. That slowed a bit last season as the Zags dealt with hot-and-cold play from the guard spot. Nembhard's presence may allow Gonzaga to return to its quick-paced form as he gives them a top-end playmaking lead guard who can distribute, score and dictate pace at an elite level. Creighton has been a habitual slow-it-down team, but Nembhard should be able to assimilate to Gonzaga's system beautifully and play at a pace he's comfortable in that will allow his team -- and him -- to thrive in a new environment.

Continued success in the portal

When Gonzaga nabbed the elder Nembhard out of the transfer portal in 2020, it added an eventual two-time All-WCC performer who grew into a reliable playmaker and outside shooter for a Gonzaga team that in 2020-21 lost just once all season -- in the national championship game. Ryan's presence may not lead to that much success -- Andrew's success was in part a confluence of success for Gonzaga including Timme's emergence and the arrival of five-star freshman Jalen Suggs -- but it is no doubt on the same scale of importance. It continues successful scores out of the portal for Few and Co. that over the years includes Brandon Clarke and Nigel Williams-Goss, both of whom earned All-WCC recognition after transferring in from other schools.