The Gonzaga Bulldogs’ depth is being tested earlier than anyone would like. The Zags already are dealing with the absence of Killian Tillie, and are now down one more man with the hand injury to Geno Crandall.
The Tillie absence wasn’t great because the Zags were losing arguably one of their most versatile players. The upcoming absence will not be great because point guard is the weakest position on the Zags’ depth chart.
In the upcoming two weeks, the Zags will play at Creighton and North Carolina, at home against Washington, and on a neutral court against Tennessee. The Zags, who just rose to No. 1, are going to have a hard as hell time holding onto that mantle.
Things are not as dire as it all seems, however. The Zags most consistent option at point guard, senior Josh Perkins, has been quietly stellar for the beginning of the season.
Perkins is playing roughly the same amount each game as he was last season, and last season he was literally the only option at point. This season, Crandall has been around to spell some of those minutes, but having Crandall around hasn’t exactly been a boon to the offense. He has only been with the Zags since mid-October, and the offense has noticeably slowed while Perkins is off the court.
Perkins has only played poorly in one game this season—against Illinois. The Fighting Illini also force turnovers on a quarter of opponents’ possessions. With the Illinois game, Perkins is averaging 2.2 turnovers per game. Take out that frustrating game, and Perkins is averaging merely 1.3 per game. Most importantly, no matter which way you cut it, he is making up for the turnovers by performing the point guard role perfectly, averaging a career high eight assists per game.
The Zags have a few more options to hopefully back up Perkins. Both Joel Ayayi and Greg Foster Jr. saw some more minutes against North Dakota State, but it is hard to see either of them seeing the court too much in Chapel Hill, barring a complete catastrophe. That means, for now, this Gonzaga squad will go as far as Perk can take it.
If the Zags are going to get a No. 1 seed, the next two weeks are going to be imperative. Gonzaga can probably afford only one loss to either North Carolina or Tennessee and still maintain a borderline-guaranteed No. 1 seed come March.
I say borderline-guaranteed because, of course, it never is for the Zags, who should have no issues rolling through the WCC. Although the WCC has improved overall this season (currently ranked No. 8 by KenPom), Saint Mary’s, the one team the Zags can rely upon for top-50 wins, has lost three games straight. BYU’s 5-2 record is inflated, all five wins have come against teams with an average Ken Pomeroy ranking of 285.
By defeating Duke and winning the Maui Invitational, the Zags gave themselves a hearty amount of breathing room come Selection Sunday. Much of that has come from Perkins running the offense exactly how a senior point guard should—with ruthless efficiency.
Crandall’s injury isn’t welcome by any means, and it hits the Zags where it hurts most. But so far this season, Perkins has risen to the occasion, for the most part. At the beginning of the year, we said this team would go as far as he could take it, so nothing has really changed in the grand scheme of it all.