Unfortunately, for the Gonzaga Bulldogs, if you take last year’s performance, the only real trajectory for the squad to take immediately this year is down. They were a few points away from being the 2017 NCAA Champions, and instead, had to be satisfied with making just the first NCAA title game AND Final Four in school history.
To make it that far, everything has to go right. Literally, everything. In that sense, the Zags were lucky by a long shot. They dealt with very few injuries. They eked out wins when they needed to eke out wins. The basketball gods treated them very fondly after treating them like utter trash just a couple of years ago.
This year, there is a lot that can go right. But when that statement is made, it is usually followed by—there is a lot that can go wrong. With the roster makeup the Zags have, that is especially true this year.
For example, an injury to either Johnathan Williams III or Killian Tillie will grossly overexpose this team’s lack of depth upfront. It will be like 2015 all over again, where after Przemek Karnowski went down with an injury, the Zags were forced into a schema that opposing coaches could easily plan for. Williams and Tillie are the wildcards here, and one of the many key cogs of this machine. If either player gets out of wack for an extended period of time, it will be difficult for the Zags to recover.
At the point guard position, the Zags aren’t as well-stocked as they seem. Josh Perkins is the only real true ball handler on the team. Although Silas Melson and Jesse Wade can spell time for breathing room, any sort of extended outage by Perkins would leave this team without a primary ball handler who has extended experience on the college level.
All of this should seem relatively familiar for Gonzaga fans, because we went through a similarly constructed limited roster just a couple of years ago. In the 2015-16 season, the Zags really only ran a six-person rotation after Karnowski went down with an injury. The rest of the scholarships spots were occupied by Nigel Williams-Goss and Johnathan Williams III. This year, after the early departures/transfers of Bryan Alberts, Nigel Williams-Goss, and Zach Collins, the Zags are entering the season with one of their slimmest rosters yet.
Only four players on the squad played meaningful minutes last season. There is a lot of talent brimming on the roster, but that also leaves a lot of question marks about how it all comes together. Will the offense coalesce in a way that is traditional of good Gonzaga teams? The defense is bound to take a hit because of the departures of Karnowski and Collins, so how do they respond? The Zags have a rough-ish non-conference schedule, and with Saint Mary’s beating the war drums this season, if the Zags stumble in the non-conference, we might be looking at a 2015-16 scenario—WCC Tournament Champions or bust.
Because truly, in the land of the Zags, the only result if it all goes wrong, we don’t make the NCAA Tournament. At 19 years at counting, that is the only way the wheels come off this thing.