Considering how much production the Gonzaga Bulldogs lost from the previous season, last year’s Zags were one of the nice stories of college basketball. They were supposed to be good, Gonzaga started out the season preranked at No. 8. They eventually hit a No. 1 ranking before settling for a COVID-19 shortened ending, most likely earning a No. 1 seed and eyeing a deep run in March.
There are a whole host of players who contributed to this achievement: eight of them to be exact. There is one player, however, who evolved and shone in a way few players could on the court.
There were a few jokes when Filip Petrusev declared for the draft in 2019. He was coming off a season in which he averaged 6.5 points and 2.7 rebounds in 11.4 minutes per game, with a majority of those minutes coming in garbage time.
That was just the first bit of the writing on the wall. Petrusev was fantastic in the FIBA U-19 World Cup last summer. In his sophomore season at Gonzaga, he stepped up to the plate in a big way. He finished the season averaging 17.5 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.
Petrusev was the focal point of the offense in a way no Gonzaga player has been since Kelly Olynyk in 201213. Petrusev’s usage percentage of 30.9 was the highest mark of the decade, beating out Olynyk’s 30.7 percent. The game plan for each game was simple. Get Petrusev the ball down low and let him do damage.
It was a win-win game plan. Petrusev was one of the best in the nation at drawing contact. Since 1992-93, only four other Gonzaga players have averaged more than seven free throw attempts per game, Adam Morrison, Ronny Turiaf, Paul Rogers, and Jeff Brown.
Petrusev finished in ninth for the 2020 kenpom.com Player of the Year, the most unofficial award possible (but a great look at those efficient college basketball players). Petrusev was the “veteran” in Gonzaga’s post that made the entire season work. Without him putting up these numbers, Gonzaga doesn’t sniff No. 1 in the AP Polls and does not sniff the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
In any other year, Petrusev declares for the NBA Draft after a season like this and is done. However, this year is not like any other year. With COVID-19 dictating how life operates, the only person who knows what is in store for Petrusev is the big man himself.
If he leaves, Gonzaga will have a frontcourt of just Drew Timme, Anton Watson, and Oumar Ballo—not a rough life. If Petrusev decides to return, the Zags are automatically the preseason No. 1 team and the national championship favorite. Either way, it is a good time to be a Zag right now.