Only the most degenerate among us know this is possible, but it’s true: A college-football fan can, if he’s a risk-taker, get down a bet this summer in some Nevada casinos on any game on his favorite team’s 2019 schedule. You can, for instance, bet on the Apple Cup, with whatever (highly speculative) odds are listed.
Of course, such a bet is fraught with uncertainty, about injuries, about team development, about any number of factors that would affect the line if it were instead the next game. To continue with the Apple Cup example, at this time a year ago you would have had no way to forecast the wonders of Gardner Minshew, or even count on him being named the WSU starting quarterback.
All of this is a roundabout way of getting to today’s treatise: If you could do this in college basketball, what sort of line would you post today on Gonzaga’s visit to Washington?
The spring storm blew through, figuratively, and what’s left at either place is hardly recognizable.
Put it this way: Last December, the Zags escaped with an 81-79 win over Washington on Rui Hachimura’s last-second jumper. In the last 12 minutes of that game, the only points scored by players returning to either team are Corey Kispert’s five (on a three and a couple of free throws) for Gonzaga and Sam Timmins’ layup for Washington. The rest of it – gonzo.
At Washington, that means the top four scorers, the top four rebounders and the top four assist guys have left. Gonzaga loses, as early entries to the NBA draft, Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Zach Norvell, plus seniors Josh Perkins, Geno Crandall (actually, he was a grad transfer) and Jeremy Jones. Among those six guys are 70.6 points of the 87.7 averaged by the Zags last year.
Right here, we’ll stipulate that there’s no reason for Zag fans to obsess over Washington. A loss to the Huskies surely wouldn’t be a season-breaker. But there’s at least a modicum of interest in them, owing to proximity, GU’s recent dominance of the series, and the fact, as I wrote in “Glory Hounds,” Mark Few was doing some faint murmuring a few years ago about discontinuing the series because of the UW’s lagging competitiveness in the final stretches of the Lorenzo Romar era, something I never got on board with.
The most screaming unknown at both programs is who’s going to play guard. Quade Green, a five-star transfer from Kentucky, gets eligible for Washington only midway through the season, presumably after the UW-Zags game. That means the most obvious candidates in the backcourt are Elijah Hardy, who played all of 18 minutes last season, and a couple of freshmen.
Gonzaga would appear to be better positioned in the backcourt, but it’s not exactly rock-solid. There are holdovers Joel Ayayi and Greg Foster, neither of whose play has jumped up and shouted, “I should be getting more run, dammit!” Fortunately, there’s Texas A&M grad transfer Admon Gilder, and there’s the provocative freshman, Brock Ravet. Still undecided is USC grad transfer Derryck Thornton. Could Kispert steal some minutes as an off-guard in a pinch?
The buzz at both schools is the frontcourt. Washington has attracted two five-star studs in Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels. They’re dancing with the devil again on Montlake (not that Few wouldn’t do precisely the same thing). Under Romar, the Huskies were famously unsuccessful with translating one-and-done talent to, uh, success on the floor – from Spencer Hawes to Tony Wroten to DeJounte Murray to Marquese Chriss to Markelle Fultz.
(Upon McDaniels’ announcement for the UW, a Seattle talk-radio host said approvingly, “Build a fence around the state.” Hmm. Gonzaga might have something to say about that, since both Ravet and Anton Watson are rated top-100 nationally. But forgive him the slip of the tongue; the same jock awhile back acknowledged Gonzaga as one of the great stories of all-time.)
Not that GU doesn’t have a front-court bounty incoming as well, from Watson to Drew Timme to a couple of others.
The X-factor in this hazy equation is Killian Tillie, who has played 1,599 minutes at Gonzaga; started 35 games as a sophomore; has never shot worse than 50 percent in three seasons; and has never hit less than .438 on three-pointers. He’s the best player on the floor in this matchup, if the Zags can just get him out there healthy. Not to be forgotten is Filip Petrusev, who played well against Washington last December before Killie’s return from injury pushed him to the back burner. (Huskies will counter that they have a couple of forecourt pieces in Nahziah Carter and Hameir Wright.)
Have to say, I’m surprised at the loftiness of some forecasts for Gonzaga, which reflect the Zags’ staccato consistency in recent years. Not that it can’t happen, just that it would need to happen with a roster never so dramatically flipped since . . . since when? Athlon just pegged Gonzaga No. 9. Stadium.com’s Jeff Goodman puts GU 12th.
So many imponderables. That mythical betting line? I’ll give Washington the obligatory home-court points and call it Gonzaga minus one. Without a shred of conviction.