The Gonzaga Bulldogs have been making due without two key members of the rotation during the toughest stretch of the season. While the Zags were able to maintain their top-10 standing without Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall, their imminent return will certainly boost a squad that had its depth tested over the last five weeks.
Both Tillie and Crandall were on the floor and taking part in the team’s shootaround before Monday night’s game against Cal-State Bakersfield, signaling that Gonzaga could soon be at full strength. Per Jim Meehan’s article for The Spokesman-Review, Crandall was cleared to return to action on Monday and available for the game against the Roadrunners, but Few opted to play it safe and hold him out a few more days. However, it seems likely that Crandall will be available and back in action for the WCC opener on Saturday against Santa Clara in The Kennel.
Crandall has been out of action since the Zags returned from the Maui Invitational after fracturing his right hand in practice before the November 26 game against North Dakota State. He was originally projected to miss 4-6 weeks, so a return this weekend puts him right in line with that time frame. Per Meehan’s article, Crandall will wear a protective pad on his hand as a matter of precaution. His return will alleviate the stress placed on Josh Perkins who played heavy minutes without a backup that Few trusted in Crandall’s absence. While Joel Ayayi and Greg Foster Jr. played spot minutes and had increased opportunities over the last three games, Crandall’s return is a big lift for the Zags.
The good news isn’t limited to just Crandall, however, as Killian Tillie also appears set to return soon. In the same article written by Meehan, he indicates that Tillie could return as soon as this Saturday as well. My own guesswork and projections estimated that Tillie would return for the San Francisco game on January 12, but a debut over this weekend would give him two games to get his game conditioning up to par and allow him to shake off some rust before the Zags play the Dons the following weekend.
Over the last few weeks, Tillie has hinted that he was getting closer to being ready, and fortunately has not experienced any setbacks during his recovery from an ankle fracture that required surgery right before the season started. Though the team has not commented on the extent of his availability after he’s cleared to play, expect to see him on a minutes restriction early as the staff eases him back into action. Any setback at this point could jeopardize his availability for the NCAA Tournament, so the coaching and medical staff will likely exercise an abundance of caution in handling Tillie’s workload.