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Killian Tillie is the Key

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The Gonzaga Bulldogs senior forward has looked fantastic in conference play.

NCAA Basketball: Pepperdine at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Killian Tillie will always be one of the crazier “what if” stories in Gonzaga Bulldogs history. During his sophomore year, it looked like he was primed and ready to enter the NBA Draft, but an ill-timed hip injury right before the Zags’ Sweet 16 game against Florida State ended that idea.

Last year, the injuries returned, and any hope that Tillie had to enter the NBA Draft was quashed when he couldn’t even workout for a single team. This year, it almost seemed like the logical progression of his injury history continued as Tillie opened up the season on the bench recovering from a knee injury.

It has been a bit of a hit and miss as Tillie has recovered from his injury. Since WCC play started, however, it has been all hit. In two close games, Tillie has shown why he is the most important player on the Bulldogs, and one of the more unique players in the conference.

Tillie has largely returned to form from his senior year. He is averaging 13.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. He leads the team with a PER of 26.4. He is second on the team in overall BPM at 9.2. His KenPom offensive rating is one of the tops in the country if he qualified with enough minutes played. He is doing all of this while shooting three-pointers at a lower clip than he has throughout his career. Few big men in the country have a shot chart resembling Tillie’s.

After sitting for the sixth-game this season against the Detroit Mercy, Tillie has been on fire to start WCC play. Through two games he is averaging 21 points, and doing that largely without the benefit of his three-point shot, only hitting 2-of-7 from long range.

Perhaps, Tillie’s most important contributions, at least in recent games, have come on the defensive end. Against Pepperdine, Tillie swatted away the potential game-tying three-pointer as time ticked down.

Tillie is exactly the ingredient the Gonzaga defense needs because of his versatility. In this example, Pepperdine guard Colbey Ross gets the theoretical switch any guard would want, but Tillie is fast enough to keep with him and deny the shot.

As the second half of the season begins and NBA Draft chatter starts up, there is a good chance we won’t see his name mentioned as much as we would expect. He is a senior with an injury history after all.

However, if Tillie remains healthy, he is one of the ultimate x-factors in all of college basketball. His ability to stretch the floor as a big man is unique at the college level and his ability to defend against smaller players will hopefully help shore up the defense a little bit. The Zags might be the top team in the nation, but, like all the other teams, they are flawed. A healthy (load managed) Tillie is exactly what Gonzaga needs to stay at the top for as long as possible this season.