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The bench will be the key for the Zags in March

The starting five can mess with anyone, but it’ll be the bench that has to provide the push.

Maui Invitational - Gonzaga v Illinois Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

On a name-by-name basis, you can pencil in the Gonzaga Bulldogs starting five as one of the best in the nation, and it is a large reason why the Zags are eyeing another No. 1 seed on Sunday.

In the front court, you have one of the (if not the) best front court tandem in the nation with junior forwards Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura. In the back court, you have the perfect pairing of pass-first senior point guard Josh Perkins and sophomore guard Zach Norvell, who looks like he is ready to be the first college player to score five points on a shot ala MTV Rock ‘n Jock hoops.

Perhaps the only unknown player on the roster, in terms of national awareness, would be sophomore muscle flexer Corey Kispert, who provides glue guy material on offense, but leaves a little bit to be desired on the defensive floor.

Generally speaking, rotations tend to get squeezed in March, especially if you are head coach Mark Few. We talked earlier about how the arrival of Killian Tillie could not come at a more opportune time, but let’s also lend some focus to the other key contributors from the bench: Geno Crandall, Jeremy Jones, and Filip Petrusev.

As expected with such a solid starting five, Coach Few does not go to the bench often. Bench minutes account for just 23.6 percent of those played, good for No. 313 in the nation. What is important to note, however, is that skill-level is not the steepest drop off is any of the starting five finds themselves in early foul trouble.

Tillie would be starting on virtually every single college team in the nation. Crandall led North Dakota for three years at point before transferring as a graduate to Gonzaga. Jones is the most underrated of the bench players, and has consistently provided quality offense and defense in limited minutes this season.

The freshman, Petrusev, is probably the player we will see the least in the NCAA Tournament. Although Petrusev is a talented offensive center with sound fundamentals, his defensive awareness is a severe liability. Between Tillie and Jones, Few should be able to weather any storm involving early foul trouble for Clarke or Hachimura.

Jones has already saved the rear end of the Zags once this season. He does everything required of a player to contribute quality minutes at the drop of a dime. Jones quickness and length on defense make him a versatile defender. His defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) is the third-highest on the squad. His defensive rebounding percentage is the third-highest on the squad. He also has a true shooting percentage of 72.1—higher than Clarke. Jones is never going to be the player of the game, but his ability to fill the stat sheet is a valuable addition to a deep run in March.

Zag fans are more familiar with Crandall, who after an up and down beginning to the season has finally started to look settled in on both ends on the floor.

Crandall also provides some extra defensive prowess for the back court. Of Norvell, Perkins, and Crandall, Geno is the best defender. Crandall has not been able to operate as a serious three-point threat this season, but when you have Perkins, Norvell, Kispert, and Tillie (even Clarke and Hachimura to an extent) on the floor, you can get by with one less shooter.

What Crandall does provide, however, is exactly what Gonzaga was missing last season: an actual backup point guard. Gonzaga is no longer paralyzed the minutes of Perkins, and if he needs a breather or is in foul trouble, the Gonzaga offense can continue to function at a high level of efficiency.

If the Zags make a deep run as we all hope, we will see a lot of words written about the starting five, specifically about Hachimura and Clarke. Here in Gonzaga-land though, we recognize the importance of the entire squad.