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Gonzaga rewind: Bulldogs still strong in national picture after Battle 4 Atlantis runner-up finish

UPDATED: Sat., Nov. 30, 2019

As television announcers reminded viewers frequently during Friday’s Gonzaga-Michigan game, the last two Battle 4 Atlantis champions have gone on to win national titles.

Villanova won the crown in the Bahamas and then claimed the 2018 national title over Michigan. Virginia took the Atlantis title last season and followed with a high-wire act through the NCAA Tournament, capped by an overtime win over Texas Tech.

So Michigan has that going for it, which is nice. The Wolverines have a lot of other things going for them, including a balanced offense directed by savvy point guard Zavier Simpson and a stout defense anchored by 7-foot-1 center Jon Teske.

Michigan (7-0) has as good a chance as anybody with the lack of a dominant team emerging in the first month of the season. Top-ranked teams haven’t stayed at No. 1 for long. The list of Final Four contenders runs at least 20 deep, and it includes Gonzaga, North Carolina and Oregon, even without Battle 4 Atlantis hardware.

What does Gonzaga’s 2-1 record and runner-up placing mean for its postseason ambitions? More in the latest Gonzaga rewind.

Holiday, NCAA Tourney correlation

The Zags opened with an easy win over Southern Miss and a hard-fought overtime decision over No. 11 Oregon. Michigan handled the Zags 82-64 in the championship game.

Tracking GU’s holiday week tournaments dating back to the 2008 season, the Zags have gone 2-1 four times: the 2017 PK80, 2015 Battle 4 Atlantis, 2013 Maui Invitational and 2007 Great Alaska Shootout. They won their openers, lost in the semifinals and won third-place games in three of the four. They fell to Dayton in the first round in Maui before winning their last two contests.

The Zags reached Sweet 16s in the 2018 and 2016 NCAA Tournaments. They were eliminated in the round of 32 in 2014. They lost in the first round in 2008, the last time Gonzaga dropped its NCAA opener.

Gonzaga was 1-1 at the CBE Classic in Kansas City, Missouri, and later went 1-1 in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga’s deepest NCAA runs, not surprisingly, came after winning Thanksgiving week events. The Zags won last season in Maui, Hawaii, and made the Elite Eight. They won in Orlando, Florida, prior to reaching the 2017 national championship game. The Zags went 2-0 at the NIT Season Tip-Off and reached the 2015 Elite Eight.

However, the correlation isn’t ironclad. In the 2013 season, the Zags rolled to the Orlando title but lost to Wichita State in the second round of the NCAAs. The 2009 and 2010 Zags earned championships in Orlando and Maui, respectively, but their seasons ended in the Sweet 16 and round of 32.

GU is 38-10 in holiday week tournaments during coach Mark Few’s tenure, including a 27-4 mark in the last eight events.

Much-needed rest

The Zags have a short break before entertaining Texas Southern on Wednesday. They certainly can use it after playing three games in fewer than three days in the Bahamas.

Killian Tillie sat out the Battle 4 Atlantis opener with swelling in his surgically repaired knee. Anton Watson suffered an ankle injury in the first minute. Admon Gilder and Ryan Woolridge exited in the second half with knee ailments.

Watson sat out the remainder of the tournament, watching from the bench with his foot in a boot. Gilder was limited to 40 of 85 possible minutes in the final two games, while Woolridge logged 73.

Tillie played 53 minutes in the last two games. He was particularly effective in the second half against Michigan and finished with 20 points.

“It’s going to be crucial the next couple days to rest our bodies and just focus on that and be ready for the next game,” Tillie said. “It was a tough three days for the team, but the next three days will be good for our bodies.”

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