Here’s the short version: Gonzaga gets their best player back and they become a better team.
Of course, it’s never that simple... Or maybe it is and this whole article is useless. But let’s break it down anyway.
Killian Tillie returned Tuesday night and immediately reminded everyone what makes him so special. He drained a three 90 seconds into the game. He guided Gonzaga down the stretch, making big drive and finish after big drive and finish. He even showed his brilliant passing at multiple points during the game. Without him, who knows how Tuesday night would have went. UTA’s defensive scheme was basically what teams ran against Tre Jones and Duke at the back half of last season to limit drives and paint touches. It’s possible we see some version of that again this year, especially from lesser WCC foes, but it’s unlikely Gonzaga misses that many open jumpers on a consistent basis. On a whole, I wouldn’t be too worried about what we saw in that game.
Tillie finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, but the most important number is 27 minutes. There will be no easing him back into action like many thought. We can pretty much bank on him playing 28-32 minutes in big games the rest of the way, assuming he stays out of foul trouble. He also played the final 11:35 of the game.
Now, the whole point of the article: what does that mean for the rest of the rotation? And who does Tillie fit best with on the court? First, let’s break down the minutes on Tuesday night. Filip Petrusev, Drew Timme, and Anton Watson all played 19 minutes. When it relates to playing with Tillie, here’s how all three fared:
Tille + Petrusev - 14:00 minutes (+1 on the scoreboard)
Tillie + Timme - 6:30 (+5)
Tillie + Watson - 3:00 (-6)
Tillie + Petrusev + Watson - 2:30 (-6)
The two big things to note here: Watson did not play with Tillie at all until the final three minutes of the game when GU couldn’t make free throws and UTA made a couple garbage time threes. Tillie and Watson are more natural fours, with the ability to drive and extend the defense more than Timme and Petrusev, who are more natural post scorers. I would be surprised if you saw many Tillie + Watson minutes outside of foul troubles. The other note is that Watson played four minutes on the wing in the first half. Watson’s time on the wing will probably be correlated to how much faith Mark Few has in Joel Ayayi. For the first time this season, he struggled on Tuesday night.
For a fun comparison, lets measure this team’s rotation to the the 2016-17 National Title team because they’re extremely similar. Both teams, in essence, have four perimeter players and four bigs. The only thing that complicates things is Watson’s ability to step out to the wing for a few minutes.
Nigel Williams-Goss (32.8 minutes/game)
Josh Perkins (29.1 mpg)
Jordan Matthews (27.9 mpg)
Johnathan Williams (24.4 mpg)
Przemek Karnowski (23.1 mpg)
Silas Melson (23.8 mpg)
Zach Collins (17.3 mpg)
Killian Tillie (12.2 mpg)
That team, like this year’s team, had two stud freshmen big men coming off the bench, along with a third-year guard. They also had two experienced transfers and a third-year player starting in the backcourt. Sound familiar?
With the Bahamas coming next week, and the Washington-Arizona-UNC gauntlet rapidly approaching, what can we guess about this team’s rotation for those games? I’m going to assume Ryan Woolridge, Admon Gilder, Corey Kispert all get a minimum of 32 minutes. Tillie will likely be the same. That leaves somewhere between 70-75 minutes for Petrusev, Watson, Timme, and Ayayi. If we assume Watson will get a four or five minute stretch every game at the wing, that takes away minutes from Ayayi. The minutes between Timme and Petrusev will largely be based on in-game performance. Tuesday night, I thought Timme was stronger and played better than Petrusev, but on the season, Petrusev has played a step above.
With all this said, here is how I envision this eight-man rotation looking in the big games the rest of the way:
Woolridge - 34
Gilder - 34
Kispert - 36
Tillie - 30
Petrusev - 22
Watson - 16
Timme - 16
Ayayi - 12
In other words, if you look at Tuesday night’s box score, that’s going to be very similar to what you see the rest of the season.
If you’re worried about Tillie taking minutes from someone, just remember how good he is. He alters shots defensively, he’s versatile and explosive on offense, and he’s the vocal leader this team needs on the court. He made two free throws to send Gonzaga to the National Title game as a freshman. He was the best player on the court most games when he was a sophomore and went wild in Las Vegas during the WCC Tournament. If he is anywhere close to that level, or even better, he is the difference between the Bulldogs being a second weekend team and a Final Four hopeful.