No. 3 Gonzaga tests depth in season opener vs. Idaho State
Over the next eight weeks or so, Gonzaga coach Mark Few is going to get to test the depth he has assembled in Spokane.
His starting center Killian Tillie, a 6-foot-10 junior who led the Bulldogs in 3-point shooting last season, had surgery late last month to repair an ankle fracture. The preseason All-West Coast Conference selection isn't expected back on the court until Christmastime.
His absence likely won't hinder the No. 3 Zags too much when they open the season on Tuesday against Idaho State at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash.
But the void will be felt during Gonzaga's typically ambitious nonconference schedule against the likes of No. 8 North Carolina, No. 6 Tennessee, No. 25 Washington and possibly No. 4 Duke.
"You can see what it means for the team," Few told the (Spokane) Spokesman-Review. "They're going to have to scramble around. Obviously, Filip (Petrusev) is going to have to get better in a hurry, and Jeremy Jones and we'll have to play Corey (Kispert) some. We're still kind of figuring that out and putting those guys in those positions and see how they hold up."
Added Tillie: "It's been hurting for a while. It wasn't really bad so I was just playing through it, but the last week it was really bad."
But better now than in March.
The last time the Bulldogs played a meaningful game without Tillie, they wilted against long-and-tall Florida State 75-60 in the Sweet 16.
Few will have to draw early on his frontcourt depth, including newcomers redshirt freshman Filip Petrusev and San Jose State transfer Brandon Clarke, who, according to the Spokesman-Review, saw his first game action in 603 days in a Thursday exhibition game against Central Washington.
"It has been 603 days, so that feels like it has been way too long, so definitely just feels great to just be on the court and actually play basketball again in a game that actually counts," Clarke said after the 108-69 rout.
"I wanted to go to a team that I knew had a good redshirt program. There have been so many great players who have flourished under that, so that made coming here easy."
Clarke, who averaged 17 points and eight rebounds a game as a sophomore, will join junior forward Rui Hachimura, who has been added to several preseason awards watch lists.
Hachimura had 23 points in 20 minutes against Central Washington.
Fifth-year senior Josh Perkins will again run the Gonzaga offense. Sophomores Corey Kispert and Zach Norvell can play multiple wing positions, and the Zags upgraded their point guard depth by luring graduate transfer Geno Crandall from North Dakota.
Crandell had eight points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals in the exhibition.
Idaho State also begins the 2018-19 season with some new faces.
The Bengals added five new players and three assistant coaches during the offseason.
Their top returnees are juniors Brandon Boyd and Jared Stutzman, who both averaged 14.9 points per game last season.
"We have a pretty good squad. I think we're going to shock a lot of people," Boyd said told the Idaho State Journal after practice last week. "We're a lot more sound than we were last year, I believe, and a lot more deep."
Bengals coach Bill Evans will need to replace almost 22 points a game from Geno Luzcando, who graduated, and 7-foot Novake Topalovic, who left for Utah as a graduate transfer.
Evans will likely look to 6-11 newcomer Kelvin Jones, who arrives in Pocatello, Idaho, via UTEP and Odessa (Texas) Junior College.
"He's almost as big (as Topalovic)," Evans said of Jones. ?He can do some things that are pretty impressive defensively, especially, where Novak was a little bit better offensively than he was defensively."
Jones is joined at Idaho State by his Odessa teammate Alonzo Walker, a 6-6 forward who started his college career at Kent State.
"Coach always says I got the hardest job on the team. I've got to do a little bit of everything," Walker said Thursday. "I play everywhere. Wherever I'm needed is where I'm at."
The new and old give Evans quite a bit to sort in advance of what will likely be his team's toughest assignment of the season. But he said he was unafraid of the challenge.
"I'm really excited," Evans said. "We're going up to play a really good team in a really great environment, and it's exciting to me. I don't fear Gonzaga. I don't fear other teams. Sometimes, other teams are more talented, but that doesn't mean you have to fear anybody, and I don't fear anybody."
Updated November 6, 2018