Zags will be dangerous in March once again
Corey Kispert was a tad lonely during the offseason. Gonzaga’s junior wing at times was one of the only players on campus as a trio of Zags entered the NBA Draft process, three key seniors from last season moved on and six incoming freshmen had yet to arrive in Spokane, save for incoming forward Anton Watson from nearby Gonzaga Prep.
“It’s nice not to be by myself anymore,” says Kispert, the lone returning starter from a 33-win team. “It’s totally different. It’s a lot of brand new faces. It was kind of an odd and different summer, but we’re going to come back as strong and as good as ever.”
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Mark Few
2018-19 RECORD (WCC): 33-4 (16-0)
2018-19 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Texas Tech 75-69 in the Elite Eight
F Brandon Clarke (16.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg)
G Geno Crandall (5.0 ppg, 2.2 apg)
F Rui Hachimura (19.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
G Zach Norvell Jr. (14.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
G Josh Perkins (11.0 ppg, 6.3 apg)
Killian Tillie, a starter in 2018, was limited to 15 games last season by ankle and foot injuries while Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke emerged to form one of the nation’s top frontcourts. The talented Frenchman put his name in the draft and sprained his ankle in his first workout, leaving him little choice but to return for his senior season. The 6'10" Tillie is a career 47 percent shooter beyond the 3-point arc, and he’s just a shade under 60 percent on 2-point attempts. He’s a prototypical NBA stretch-4 but has a soft touch around the rim. Tillie should have a prominent role, and it won’t be a surprise if he becomes an All-America candidate.
Tillie is hardly alone inside. Sophomore Filip Petrusev showed his scoring ability in limited minutes last season, and his numbers should rise as a projected starter. Petrusev, who dipped his toe in the NBA waters before returning to GU, has work to do defensively and on the glass, but he’s on track to become the program’s next standout international big.
Freshman Drew Timme could push Petrusev for a starting nod. The Texas native has good size and moves and was an excellent passer in high school. Oumar Ballo, often referred to as “Baby Shaq,” is just 17 years old and will need time to develop, but he has a college-ready frame at 6'10" and 260 pounds. Watson is an intriguing addition. The 6'9" freshman is athletic, can handle the ball and has a high basketball IQ. He could see time at the wing and the 4.
The Zags reloaded the backcourt with a pair of grad transfers. Ryan Woolridge (North Texas) is expected to start at point guard with Admon Gilder (Texas A&M) stepping in as a combo guard. Both are returning from health issues — Woolridge had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his patella, and Gilder missed last season with a blood clot in his arm — but they anticipate being ready this fall. Both were double-digit scorers at their previous stops, comfortable in transition and strong defenders.
Kispert is the team’s top returning scorer (8.0 ppg) and rebounder (4.1 rpg). The 6'6" wing is one of GU’s most experienced players and should assume a larger role beyond his 61 made 3-pointers last season with 37.4 percent accuracy.
Sophomore Joel Ayayi, who was outstanding for France in the FIBA U19 World Cup this summer, and freshmen Brock Ravet and Martynas Arlauskas should compete for significant minutes. Ravet is the all-time leading scorer in Washington prep history.
The Zags will need time to fit the pieces together, but there is proven talent in Tillie and Petrusev, proven transfers in Gilder and Woolridge and an impressive collection of freshmen who will see the court. Perimeter shooting is a concern on paper, but the Zags typically prefer an inside-outside approach. If Tillie can stay healthy and the team can speed up the learning curve during an arduous non-conference schedule, the Zags will be dangerous again in March.
Postseason Prediction: Sweet 16
WCC Prediction: 1st