The Zags will go from having one of the deepest, most talented frontcourts in all of college basketball to a frontcourt that has a lot to prove heading into 2017-2018. Gone is the veteran presence that was fifth-year senior Przemek Karnowski and the oozing young talent that was freshman Zach Collins. Gone too is seven-foot role player Ryan Edwards, leaving the Zags thin up front for the first time in many years. Much of the load will be shouldered by senior Jonathan Williams, who has been ‘the man’ before at Missouri and may be pushed into that role again this year. Freshmen Jacob Larsen is a mystery, meaning that one of the most important “glue” guys for 2017-2018 will be sophomore Killian Tillie.
The 6’10 Tillie averaged 4.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game last year as the second big man off the bench. Tille shot 51% from the field and 77% from the line, while also nailing 11/23 three-pointers on the year. Tillie’s role will be much expanded his sophomore year, and the big man will have a chance to prove to the world what he is truly capable of. While JW3 is certainly going to start at the four, Tillie’s true position, Tillie may be pushed into playing some five if Jacob Larsen is not quite ready to shoulder the load in the paint. Tillie’s game is best suited alternating between the perimeter and the post, making him a valuable floor-spacing big man. A lineup with JW3 and Tillie will wreak havoc on opposing defenses; both are capable of shooting from the outside which will open up the paint for the guards to get into the lane and score. Likewise, Tillie earned valuable experience as the passing big man in Mark Few’s high-low post offense, a role he can continue to fill dishing the ball down low to either Williams or Larsen.
Tille has some aspects of his game he will need to improve, including his low-post game. If he is asked to fill in at the center spot this season, he will need to get better at scoring in the post. If he can develop a strong post game and limit his fouls, Tillie could be one of the biggest pieces on this flexible Gonzaga team next year. His name has already showed up on two 2018 NBA mock drafts, and there is reason to believe that Tillie could make a big enough jump next season that NBA scouts will bite on the 6’10 big man with a good outside shot and highly developed defensive instincts.
Overall, there is hope that Tillie can make a Sabonis-like jump his sophomore year and hear his name called on draft day next June. It is worth noting, however, that his freshmen year numbers (4.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 10.2 minutes) are eerily similar to another European big man, Przemek Karnowski (5.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 12.2 minutes). Tillie’s game is quite different from Karnowski’s, but if he does not make the jump next year there is hope that he could still develop into another one of Mark Few’s dominant European big men. No matter what happens, Tillie will be a big factor in Gonzaga’s 2017-2018 season.