We were off last Monday due to holidays and Feast Week Tournaments taking up most of our content, but we are back this week with another edition of Monday Memories. Today is the second of our 12-part series looking back at the most memorable teams of the Mark Few Era. Today, we remember the 2017-2018 Gonzaga Bulldogs.
This team was put in the rough spot of playing after a National Title game appearance. They lost Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the NBA and the winningest player in NCAA history Przemek Karnowski finally ran out of eligibility, as did Big Shot Jordan Mathews. So they entered the season with a ton of question marks, much like this year’s team.
And much like this year’s team, they exceeded all expectations early on before getting smacked with a reality check. After dominating Ohio State in the opening round of the PK80, the 17th-ranked Zags took on the 7th-ranked Florida Gators in one of the best regular season games of this decade. The double-OT thriller saw the Gators hit 17 threes and Johnathan Williams put together an unstoppable performance. His 39 points and 12 rebounds should have been enough, but a missed free throw from Silas Melson and foul trouble in the second overtime doomed the team.
The game signaled that these Zags were once again legit. So much so that fans may have elevated their expectations a tad. And they came crashing down again when they got smacked by Villanova, almost lost at home to North Dakota, and put up a clunker at San Diego State.
It wasn’t all bad, however. Zach Norvell had his first microwave moment when he went off in the second half against Creighton and the team absolutely smashed Washington in their first game in Seattle in several years. Entering WCC play, they were a respectable 10-3, but no real great wins.
This year, as we all remember, was the year Saint Mary’s was foolishly selected to win the WCC. And it actually looked promising for them after the Gaels beat the Zags in Spokane because Jock Landale was a monster. In their second match-up however? Landale forgot how to play basketball. He was thoroughly confused by the concept of double teams and Gonzaga beat up the Gaels in Moraga.
They ended the regular season on an 11-game winning streak. In Las Vegas, Killian Tillie hit the jackpot and could not miss from distance, providing one of the greatest conference tournament performances of all time. His 12 straight made threes led GU to another WCC Title over BYU, who upset the Gaels in the semi-finals.
The Zags earned a 4-seed in the tournament and got some enormous shots from Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell to get the Sweet 16, where Florida State was waiting after their upset over top-seeded Xavier. We all know how the story ends. Tillie gets hurt the day before they get on the plane, Gonzaga has zero depth and no bigs to stretch the defense and they get dominated inside en route to a 75-60 loss. Had Tillie been healthy, who knows how far this team would have gone. But if he were healthy, he probably would have bolted to the NBA and the last two seasons would have been altered, too. Hypotheticals are fun!
Here are some fun stats from the 2017-18 season:
- Killian Tillie shot 45-for-94 (48%) from distance, the 10th best mark of any qualified player in America.
- Tillie’s offensive rating of 126.2 is the fourth highest among players with 50+ percent of minutes played in the Mark Few Era. The only three better? Brandon Clarke last season and both Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos in 2015.
- Their 2-pt FG% of 58.2 percent was the highest in Gonzaga history until the mark got broken last season.
- Opponent’s effective FG percentage was up six points from the national title team. The 47.1 percent mark is the second worst since Adam Morrison graduated.
- 2018 is the only time this decade Gonzaga won each WCC Tournament game by more than 20 points.
- This is the only team in Gonzaga history to have FIVE PLAYERS average 11 or more points (Williams: 13.4, Tillie: 12.9, Norvell: 12.7, Perkins 12.3, Hachimura 11.6)