March Madness is just around the corner, and the Zags once again find themselves in the mix. Another solid year from the squad boasts impressive wins over Ohio State, St. Mary’s, and Creighton to name a few. However, this season is a little different compared to most, as the Bulldogs enter March with one big question mark: who is the go-to guy?
In previous years, Gonzaga had players that emerged as obvious leaders and guys that we all wanted to have the ball if the game was on the line. While there were many players with the ability to hit the game winning shot or the talent to post 20+ points in one night, there was always one guy in recent years that stood out, which has included Nigel Williams-Goss, Kyle Wiltjer, Kevin Pangos, and Kelly Olynyk.
This year’s squad has no issues with talent. The Zags are one of the most balanced scoring teams in the nation with five players averaging double-figures (Silas Melson is just under 10 points per game), but who is the most important player on the team? Entering the NCAA Tournament, the team needs to identify the guy that (without a doubt) will have the ball in his hands when they need a bucket. One player needs to emerge as the leader if this year’s squad wants to make a deep run.
The Zags are led by Johnathan Williams in scoring with 13.5 ppg. His field goal percentage is also impressive at a solid 56%. However, the fear with Williams is his not-so impressive performance at the line at 56%. Opponents could impose the infamous hack-a-Shaq approach on J3 in late game situations which could decrease his time on the court if the game goes down to the wire. His play is also primarily in the post which limits his balance of scoring opportunities.
An easy pick would be Josh Perkins, an experienced point guard averaging 12.4 ppg while shooting 43% from the field and 40% from three. The only concern with the junior guard is his inconsistency. Perkins has a tendency to turn the ball over and make poor decisions down the stretch, but he can sometimes be counted on for a big three when needed.
So who is my pick as the go-to guy? Rui Hachimura. Yes, the guy that comes off the bench. The sophomore forward out of Japan can do it all, and he has emerged as a crucial piece to the Zags’ success. Hachimura’s consistency might be the best on the team, with 11.3 ppg while shooting an outstanding 57% from the field. Standing at 6’8” and 225 lbs, Rui is a matchup nightmare for opponents with NBA-type athleticism. Not only can he post up from the interior, Hachimura can isolate himself on the perimeter and take defenders off the dribble. What about sending the big-guy to the free-throw line? Not a problem. He shoots a superb 84% from the line.
What about Killian Tillie, you might ask? After his out of body experience in the WCC Tournament – which was one of the most memorable three-point shooting displays in WCC history – he definitely has the potential to take this team into his own hands. However, Hachimura’s athleticism and ability to take guys off the dribble separates him from Tillie, which gives him the opportunity to announce himself as the most important player for the Zags this March. Don’t be surprised if Rui is one of the most talked about players in all of college basketball for this season’s NCAA Tournament.