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3-on-3: What we learned about Gonzaga from its MSU scrimmage and deciphering the rotation

NCAA Basketball: San Francisco at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the season, three of our writers (Peter, Steven, and Keith) will get together and discuss their thoughts on the biggest (and smallest) issues surrounding Gonzaga’s season. For reasons unknown, those conversations are being released to the world. Here’s the first edition.

Keith Ybanez: After what has felt like an eternity, Gonzaga’s offseason is finally coming to a close this week. Sure, the game against Lewis & Clark is still an exhibition and probably less useful for drawing conclusions about this team than the secret scrimmage against Michigan State. But, at least it’s a game that most of us can watch! Speaking of that so-called “secret” scrimmage, that of course got reported like an actual game, how much can we reasonably take away from it?

Steven Karr: It’s noteworthy that Gonzaga is closer to competing against elite teams than we probably thought. I think it also shows they will still be able to score the ball, especially inside, even with the loss of three NBA players and the leading assist man in school history.

Peter Woodburn: I agree. I mean, after all, it is just a scrimmage. For both teams, you can only draw so much from it. That said, I’m not opposed to Corey Kispert averaging 28 points per game this season. I’ve personally been a bit down on Gonzaga as far as preseason rankings go because I’ve wondered how they would honestly fill in all of that production that was lost from last season. This scrimmage shows that the Zags are probably deserving of that preseason top 10 ranking...if not perhaps a spot higher.

I do think it’s interesting that Mark Few has already settled into his seven-man rotation.

KY: Good points. I was encouraged by Kispert’s 28 points because he definitely needs to be a consistent producer on the offensive end this season. He’s been a nice spot up option throughout this career thus far, and while he still needs to be that threat on the perimeter with Norvell and Perkins out of the picture, I’d love to see him consistently hunting for his shot this year.

Few going with a 7-man rotation for the scrimmage was an interesting decision considering that setting would seemingly be the time to experiment with lineup compositions in a non-practice situation. That was the approach that Izzo took, while Few appears to have used it as a dress rehearsal of sorts. If Few keeps the rotation tight, at least for the key games in the non-conference part of the schedule, how are the minutes going to be spread out?

SK: Are we going to include Killian Tillie in this rotation? His health obviously impacts everything, including Pavel Zakharov. By all accounts, he seems to be progressing well. I would be shocked if he didn’t play at Texas A&M, at the latest.

KY: Agreed. I suspect we’ll see Tillie back by the North Dakota game so he can get his legs under him before traveling to College Station. But, I don’t feel comfortable making any assumptions about Tillie’s health anymore. He’s had the worst luck.

SK: With Tillie, I would go with this rotation/minute guess: Woolridge (30), Gilder (32), Kispert (30), Petrusev (28), Tillie (25) with the bench guys Ayayi (15), Watson (20), and Timme (20).

PW: That looks about right to me. The frontcourt is so loaded with talented young pieces that Mark Few can go bonkers and swap guys in and out however the situation calls for, and even though Pavel Zahkarov apparently performed quite nicely during the scrimmage, we all know how Few loves those tight rotations.

SK: As the season goes on, I would expect Tillie to get closer to 30 minutes if he can stay out of foul trouble.

KY: Do you think the coaching staff would entertain the idea of keeping Tillie on a minutes restriction, even if the medical staff doesn’t have him on any physical restrictions?

SK: They’ll certainly watch him closely as the season gets going. The key for Tillie and the team is to have him as healthy as possible when March rolls around. So however they need to manage him, let’s keep him as fresh as possible for when it matters most.

PW: I have to think with Tillie it is more just a rash of bad luck than inherent injury issues. He averaged 26 minutes per game a couple of years ago, and I think he can go for that this season.

KY: While unlikely, I don’t think a minutes restriction is outside the realm of possibility. I’m sure part of the calculus, at least for Tillie, in returning to Spokane was improving his draft stock. The biggest question mark for him, at least from the eyes of NBA talent evaluators, is probably his durability and medical history. I would imagine that any sort of minutes restriction would be a bad blow to his draft grade, but it could ultimately be the best thing for him if he’s physically in a great place when March rolls around. I doubt the coaching staff would do that to him, but it bears watching over the first few months.

PW: If you have to put Tillie in a bath of bubble wrap each night to make sure he is ready in March, you do it. I think the biggest minutes question I have is what happens when Woolridge and/or Gilder struggle. This backcourt depth reminds me of 2016 in no good way.

SK: Yeah the backcourt is going to be fascinating. If there’s truly an x-factor on the team, it’s probably Joel Ayayi. He can take so much pressure off Gilder and Woolridge, and even Kispert to an extent, if he can take the step so many anticipate he will. If he doesn’t, and the staff doesn’t trust Brock Ravet yet, then you may be seeing a lot of lineups with Kispert at the 2 and Watson at the 3

KY: I’ve been on Team Ayayi for awhile and love his tool kit. I really believe he’ll be able to handle a 15-20 minute role in the rotation this season in conjunction with Gilder and Woolridge. I’m not quite as ready to christen Ravet with a meaningful role, yet, and think he’ll need a bit of time. I’m not overly concerned with a three-man backcourt rotation of Ayayi, Gilder, and Woolridge provided all three remain healthy. Kispert could of course slide down to the 2-spot for a few minutes here and there and Gonzaga could go with a jumbo lineup, but I wouldn’t want to see that for any prolonged period of time.

SK: Agreed on all points there. This is his third year in the program and he came in at an incredibly young age. This should be his breakout season, and a 15 minute role should be realistic. He could very well start next season, too. I’m also on Team Ayayi, so much so that I thought he would start over Woolridge for a little while.

KY: Same. Woolridge and Gilder starting together obviously makes the most sense, and the thought of what they could do together on the defensive end is really exciting. However, I’m also of the mind that Ayayi starting over Woolridge might ultimately provide more balance to the rotation throughout the course of the game.

While the backcourt provides for some great debate, the frontcourt is the strength of the team, right? There are a lot of talented forwards on the roster, and they’re all a little bit different. That depth is great to have, but it could take a hit if Oumar Ballo never becomes eligible this season. If he’s not eligible, how does that impact Gonzaga’s goals for the year?

PW: This squad has so many bigs ready to go, I’m not sure that we will miss out on Baby Shaq too much this year (maybe outside of his hairstyle). Of course, you want to have a player of his caliber ready and roaring to go, but he is young and needs a bit of seasoning on the defensive end. Throughout the history of going overseas, the coaching staff has been very deliberate with its international players. It’s hard to think of a time when Przemek Karnowski only averaged 10 minutes per game, but that was his freshman year.

SK: Yeah I don’t think the goals of the team change at all. Ballo was never going to play much in big games. If anything, it could affect his mental state, knowing he may not be able to step on the court. And that is a very valid thing to consider. But, theoretically, it should not affect his development as a player. He’s so strong, but still extremely raw and a little lost in the system. I think the plan all along was for him to be a big (literally) piece of next season’s squad.

KY: You always want more talent available to your team than less, so not having Ballo available this season would certainly be unfortunate. Ballo himself would understandably be disappointed if he has to sit out the season, but I think it could ultimately be a good thing if he has a full year to develop and integrate into collegiate basketball without having any pressure to produce. I think the biggest impact will be on the Slipper Still Fits twitter account and the potential loss of garbage time highlights he could possibly provide us this season. It would be devastating.