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Killian Tillie is the key to Gonzaga’s versatility

Mark Few’s “problem solver” provides the Zags with a dynamic two-way player who will be building off a strong sophomore season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-UNCG vs Gonzaga Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

No player wants to finish the season stuck on the bench and unable to help his team. Unfortunately, thanks to an ill-timed injury two days before Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 matchup with Florida State, that’s exactly how Killian Tillie saw his sophomore season end. But with Tillie’s recent announcement that he’ll be back at Gonzaga next season, that won’t be how his collegiate career ends.

Tillie’s importance to Gonzaga was highlighted by his absence in the Sweet 16 loss to Florida State. Without the sophomore forward, the Zags struggled against the Seminoles’ length and athleticism, and lost the ability to create mismatches, space the floor, and defend the paint.

In his two seasons, Tillie demonstrated that he has legitimate talent. With an increased role as a sophomore, he tripled his scoring average from his freshman season while improving all of his shooting averages. He was at his best in a dominant three-game stretch in Las Vegas during the WCC Tournament where he shot 13-14 from the three-point line and was named tournament MVP. Even with a disappointing NCAA Tournament coming off his scintillating performance at the conference tournament, he still finished the season as Gonzaga’s top shooter from long distance at an excellent 47.9% clip and also had the team’s top mark in true shooting percentage (66.9%).

But Tillie’s value goes beyond being able to spot up and space out opposing defenses. He is truly the ultimate utility player. High basketball IQ, strong passing skills, and great hands around the basket allow him to be an impact player without Mark Few ever having to call a play for him. Coupled with his rebounding skills and ability to defend multiple positions at his size, it’s easy to see why Few calls him his “problem solver.” Tillie could play on any team, in any offensive or defensive system, and find a way to contribute. There is immense value in having a player with that profile on your team.

It is that multi-faceted skillset and size that makes him a legitimate NBA prospect and a perfect fit for how basketball has evolved. Now that he’s a lock to return, Gonzaga will get to field lots of versatile lineups next season as he’ll fit well in any frontcourt configuration with Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Jacob Larsen, and Filip Petrusev. Tillie’s presence allows Mark Few to consider just about any option with his lineups that won’t present many downsides.

As with many of his teammates, Tillie will need to find more consistency to his game. Improving his strength and physicality should also be points of emphasis over the summer and will make him a more tantalizing professional prospect. But the biggest key will be for Tillie to return with a more assertive mindset, as there were moments throughout last season where the Zags could have benefited from more aggression from him. With his abilities, he shouldn’t have to take a backseat to anyone. It’ll be up to him to play that way moving forward.

With Tillie’s talent level and the development he’s shown already through his first two years on campus, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t find another level to his game when the 2018-19 campaign tips off. That should be a troubling thought for all of Gonzaga’s opponents.