This year’s Zag team has an embarrassment of riches. Two all-conference, fifth-year senior point guards, three supremely talented and athletic off guards/wings, three bigs with NBA potential along with Larsen and Ayayi who’d both be starting for about 300 other D-1 schools. 9 of these 10 players have significant D-1 court time with Ayayi being a member of the FIBA U-18 all-tournament team. So where does this leave incoming freshman Greg Foster Jr. and Filip Petrusev? In my humble opinion, both will redshirt this season.
Greg Foster Jr., despite the pedigree (his father played in the NBA for 13 seasons and is a current assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks) and great physique should be an easy redshirt decision. Perkins, Crandall, Norvell and Kispert will have the three guard positions all but locked down. I also expect Rui to get some playing time at the “3” with Jones and Ayayi fighting for any spare minutes. That’s just too much depth for Greg to get any meaningful minutes and justify wasting a season of eligibility.
The case for Filip Petrusev redshirting isn’t so easy. He’s is a top 100 recruit, stared for an elite high school team and dominated at the FIBA U-18’s this summer. Looking at his highlight clips, he can move, pass, play the post and hit the three. How do you keep this guy out of the line-up? Well, I could be as wrong as Omar Samhan at a Jeopardy Tournament, but here are my reasons why I think he’ll redshirt.
We’ve had some discussion on this blog over the past month about Petrusev being able to supplant Jacob Larsen as the fourth big. Petrusev may have a better all-around game with his offense and ability to shoot the three, but is that a need for this year’s team? Scoring shouldn’t be a problem for this squad. Perkins, Crandall, Norvell and Kispert are all above average deep shooters. As we saw last season, Tillie can be spectacular from the arc. Rui and Clarke have both stated improving their shooting from deep is one of their goals entering the season. Offense and deep shooting we got…. defense in the paint, rebounding and a big body to alter shots is what we need and Larsen appears to have the edge in those attibutes.
Larsen’s already redshirted, also has an impressive set of skills and with missing two of the last three seasons needs the court time more than Petrusev. It’s almost certain Rui and Tillie will not be back next season. There is also a chance Brandon Clarke could go too. Larsen and Petrusev could the starting front line for the next two seasons (Watson as a wing?). We know how good Petrusev is because of his performance at FIBA this past summer. What we are forgetting is Larsen was a FIBA U-16 Tournament MVP winning the award over Chicago Bull Lauri Markkanen. Larsen, like Petrusev, has to potential to be a great player.
Even if Petrusev is significantly better than Larsen and is the fourth big, will there be enough minutes for him to give up a year of eligibility? Rui is a pre-season first team All-American so should play at least 30 minutes per game, Tillie and Clarke should play 25 each. Guess what math majors, that’s the 80 game minutes at the 4 and 5 positions. Even if Rui spends time at the “3” and plays less than 30 minutes a game, that’s not a lot of fourth big playing time. There must be a point of diminishing returns for playing versus redshirting freshman. Do you give up a season of eligibility for 10 minutes a game? Five minutes? Adding a fifth big seems like a complete waste of talent.
The Zags had five bigs two years ago, but there were mitigating circumstances. Karnowski’s return from injury made his status questionable and freshman Zach Collins and Killian Tillie were both special players (I heard Tillie’s parents played volleyball). Ryan Edwards appeared to be out of shape all season and only played a little over two minutes per game. I’m not sure what effect the lack of playing time had on Ryan’s psyche, but he was willing to forego next season’s senior year of eligibility before transferring to Portland State. I’d hate to see Larsen put in a similar situation.
Finally, even though it wasn’t an issue last season, Larsen has had problems with both knees. As much as I hope he stays healthy and strong, there is always potential for reinjury. Sadly, Killian Tillie’s last season hip injury was more serious than any of us knew. Let Larsen have the minutes while he’s healthy and getting stronger. If he or Tillie have any problems during the season, Petrusev can end his redshirt and fill the void. Another quality fourth big on the floor without the team missing a beat.
Sure, I could be wrong and Petrusev is just too good to keep off the floor, but that would be a situation where I’d be happy to be wrong. Petrusev could be good enough not only to overtake Larsen, but may get some of Rui, Tillie and Clarkes minutes. What a great problem to have. After all, this year’s squad does have an embarrassment of riches.