The Gonzaga Bulldogs are at a point where each year is a very good year. 2018, as it stands on its own, was a good year. It wasn’t quite as good as 2017 (Final Fours will apparently do that to you), but it was an important foundation for the near future.
2018, in a way, seemed like an evolution year for Gonzaga. 2017 was the new chapter in the book, and 2018 is carrying the plot forward to the future. This season, the Zags opened with their highest ranking in school history. Next season, the Zags will welcome their highest ranked recruiting class in school history. In the thick of it all was 2018, sending this fanatical fanbase on a roller coaster of emotions.
So in that spirit, here are a few moments from 2018 that helped us reach the point in which we exist today.
Although the result of said series, Gonzaga’s demolition by the Tar Heels, was not the most fun game to watch, this news was still huge. In 2019, we will see the North Carolina Tar Heels, one of the most storied basketball programs in the world, enter The Kennel. Ten years ago, I doubt a single soul around here ever dreams that could happen.
This was as close to conference realignment talk as the Zags realistically have gotten in years. And was it ever a lot of talk.
This is probably the most consequential day of 2018. The Zags had struggled, but won, two games to reach their fourth-consecutive Sweet 16. Florida State was going to be hard, but doable. Instead, mere minutes before the game, Killian Tillie injured his hip, and from the get-go, it was clear the year was done. The injury would have lasting impacts as well. At that point, Tillie had been appearing in virtually every draft board as a potential first-rounder. He couldn’t work out for a single NBA team, and ultimately, returned to Gonzaga for his junior year. Rui Hachimura would follow suit and stay as well, setting up expectations for the future.
You can put me in the camp of wishing the Zags moved to the MWC solely for two games against Nevada each year. Instead, Mike Roth and company extracted some key concessions from the WCC, and Gonzaga stayed with the conference it grew up in since the 1980s.
Jesse Wade never found traction or consistent minutes at Gonzaga, and his decision to transfer ensured that the 2018-19 Zags would be once again completely led by Josh Perkins at the point. It also signified a slight directional change for the Zags. Generally speaking, Wade was a player who would have fit in on Gonzaga teams in the 2000s. He was a little undersized, but he was a phenomenal shooter. I can see a variety of years Wade would have found plenty of minutes on. Those minutes just don’t exist anymore for current Gonzaga squads, and this example showcases the growth of the program over the past decade.
Geno Crandall was one of the top graduate transfers on the market, and when he chose Gonzaga, it was the push to the top for the Zags. Now, instead of JUST the Final Four, the Zags were going to cut down the nets in the whole thing. Up until that point, the Zags one true weakness was backcourt depth. Crandall was supposed to help Perkins at point. Unfortunately, Crandall hadn’t graduated in time, and he wasn’t able to join the Zags until mid-October. A hand injury has furtherer derailed his impact so far this year.
Roughly one week prior, the AP preseason poll came out and Gonzaga was named the No. 3 team in the nation, the highest ranking in school history to open a season. The elation fell apart quickly when it was announced that Killian Tillie would miss the entire non-conference schedule with an ankle injury. All the Final Four talk ceased on this day. First, the Zags would have to survive a brutal non-conference slate missing one of their best players.
Drew Timme is probably the most competitive recruit the Zags have secured. Although Zach Collins eventually ended up as a five-star recruit, Gonzaga had already earned his commitment before his meteoric rise through the ranks his senior year. Timme received offers from virtually everyone under the sun. For the most part, the Zags biggest recruiting successes have come internationally. The Timme commitment showcased that the Gonzaga coaching staff can hang with the big schools back in the states as well.
This game will go down in history as one of the biggest victories for Gonzaga. Despite being the No. 3 team in the nation, Gonzaga entered the contest like some bottom feeding SEC team according to the Duke hype train. The game was beyond exciting, and Gonzaga’s seniority defeated the youthfulness of Duke. However, for the first 20 minutes of the game, the Gonzaga Bulldogs were clearly the top team in the country. The invincible Duke Blue Devils looked beyond human. Also this:
This is still my favorite sequence of the entire year. pic.twitter.com/Berrn6nNrG— Slipper Still Fits (@slipperstillfit) December 3, 2018
There was plenty more that happened in 2018, but no one wants to read 1,800 of my poorly chosen words. I can’t say much with clarity except this: Watching Gonzaga basketball is one of my favorite activities, and operating this blog only adds to the fun. A sincere thanks to all of the current staff, any of the past staff, Zach and Max for starting the whole thing, and any and all commenters who have come through and contributed—we may not always agree all the time but that is the beauty of conversation. I hope everyone had a great 2018 and is excited for what 2019 will bring!