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Grip on Sports: We interrupt this football season to welcome in college basketball

Gonzaga forward Killian Tillie tries to stop a shot by BYU forward Yoeli Childs, Tuesday, March 6, 2018, at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Killian Tillie tries to stop a shot by BYU forward Yoeli Childs, Tuesday, March 6, 2018, at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • College football season may be in the stretch run, but that has to take a back seat this morning. There is way too much college basketball to talk about. Read on.

••••••••••

• If you still buy the newspaper in its original form, you got a hefty one today. Inside is the basketball preseason section, which is chock full of Gonzaga stories. More than anyone can ever remember, and some of us can remember a long way back.

My first Gonzaga basketball memory? Watching John Stockton’s group defeat Ray Meyer and DePaul on television from Chicago.

Funny thing was, I didn’t even live in Spokane then. Oh, I had already decided to accept the Spokesman-Review’s job offer that early January day in 1983, but wouldn’t move to the city for a couple months.

But it was a fun game to watch. And quite the upset. Which, up until about the turn of the century, was a Gonzaga staple. Upsets, I mean.

That was then, this is now.

The Zags are the big kids on the block, the bullies of the WCC. One of college basketball’s powerhouse programs. They are ranked third in the nation heading into this season, which isn’t the position of a school poised to post a few upsets.

The other way round, maybe.

With the news this week Killian Tillie will miss up to eight weeks of nonconference action, upsets are not only possible before WCC play but to be expected. (Wait, that would upset the true meaning of the word “upset” wouldn’t it?)

Tillie is a crucial component in much of what the Zags do. He’s a power forward who may be their best outside shooting threat. He’s a shot-blocker who can switch a screen and lock down a point guard. His versatility is unmatched, except maybe by Rui Hachimura.

He will be missed.

But with adversity comes opportunity, especially for 6-foot-11 freshman Filip Petrusev. The big man was already being forced-fed chances, thanks to Jacob Larsen’s decision to forego basketball and concentrate on academics. Now Petrusev will receive even more opportunities to fine-tune his skills.

It may not be a win-win – more like a lose-win, maybe – but it may help the freshman’s long-term development.

• The Zags return to the court tonight with an exhibition against Central Washington. We will be in front of our TV offering thoughts and perspective to all of us who aren’t able to get into the Kennel. You will be able to find our TV Take here not too long after the game ends at 8 p.m., and in the newspaper tomorrow morning.

• Speaking of the paper, today’s basketball section has more than just Gonzaga stories. There are previews of every college program in the area, men and women. We will link all the stories below, but such overwhelming content should be enjoyed over a long period, something made a lot easier by picking up a printed copy.

•••

WSU: The regular-season stretch run includes four teams who have given Washington State fits at times recently. First up is California this Saturday, which marks the return of Spokane’s Evan Weaver. The former Gonzaga Prep star is one of the nation’s leaders in tackles and is the subject of Theo Lawson’s feature. … Halloween had a distinct southern flair yesterday that Theo also examined. … Theo has his picks for this week’s Pac-12 games as well as a transcript of yesterday’s live chat and video of interviews with Mike Leach and Tracy Claeys. … I took some time this week to look back at great starts in WSU football history for The Athletic. And to talk with people who were a part of them. … California is probably where the Cougars would be at quarterback if Gardner Minshew hadn't transferred in. … In basketball, Theo takes a look at the upcoming season and the Cougars’ chances. … The Pac-12 is expected to be lacking some crucial ingredients this season, like talent. John Blanchette has a preview of the conference race. … The WSU women are under new management. Jim Allen has that story.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, the Cougars are atop another power ranking. And are expected to win this week, keeping their playoff hopes alive. … Washington will host Stanford this week hoping to call down the echoes of the past. And Jake Browning will be the guy trying to rekindle them. … It looks as if Justin Herbert will be available when Oregon hosts UCLA this week. The Bruins will still be missing some key players. … Speaking of key players, USC has changed its cast of characters before traveling to Oregon State. … Colorado met as a team, hoping to be ready for whatever Arizona brings . … Utah and Arizona State meet Saturday in Tempe. … From the basketball side of things, the UA regents are meeting about Sean Miller. … And, from the life is tough department, this story is not to be missed.

Gonzaga: The stories abound, led by Jim Meehan’s overall preview and his feature on much-maligned point guard Josh Perkins. … John Blanchette has two pieces, one on another way to measure Gonzaga’s history and the other a look back at one of the program’s key games. … The women, led by point guard Laura Stockton, are looking for another successful season. Jim Allen has stories about both. … The West Coast Conference is the Zags’ to lose. Again. John has the preview. … It all starts tonight with an exhibition visit from Central Washington. Jim Meehan has a preview. He also joins Larry Weir for the latest Press Box pod.

EWU: Yes, there is basketball news. But the football news comes first, especially when it is about the new starting quarterback, Eric Barriere. Ryan Collingwood has the story. … Ryan also has the basketball preview. … Around the Big Sky,

Idaho: The Vandal basketball fortunes will be in the hands, in large part, of a bunch of newcomers. Peter Harriman has the season preview.

Whitworth: The football regular season is winding down, but that doesn’t mean the Pirates are. Dan Thompson examines what the next two weeks mean to Whitworth. … The Pirates are the gold standard in the area for extended Division III success and this year will be no different. Ryan has a preview of what’s in store for the Whit men. … He also has a piece on the changing of the guard in the Whitworth women’s program.

CCS and NIC: The Cardinals will be out to defend their conference title. Ryan examines how they will do that – there is a lot of talent returning – and how CCS will do.

Preps: Yes, the postseason is in full swing, but one sport has already decided its state champion. That would be slowpitch and Mt. Spokane picked up that hardware. Dave Nichols has a story on the Wildcats’ crown. … Dave also looks at this weekend’s football playoff action in Washington. … Justin Reed has a preview of the soccer district title game tonight at SFCC between Central Valley and Gonzaga Prep. … The WIAA's football seeding committee will make its first-ever decisions soon.

Seahawks: The first coach the Hawks ever had died Wednesday. Jack Patera was an original in more ways than one. … D.J. Fluker has brought strength to the offensive line. … The defense is better this year. How did that happen?

Mariners: Willie McCovey died yesterday. He was a childhood hero even if he played for the team I despised the most. Who could hate Willie? His smile, and swing, were too sweet. … The M's are stuck in baseball limbo, a place that is hard to leave.

Sounders: Seattle has some defensive players up for awards.

•••       

• Work tonight. Watching a Gonzaga basketball game from home is hard work. It is, really. I have to take notes and everything. … Another quick reminder. No column on Saturday. Until later …

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