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Mid-Major Madness Breakout Player of the Year: Killian Tillie made sure Gonzaga did not take a step back

The Bulldogs needed Tillie to be great. He was.

NCAA Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-Gonzaga vs San Francisco Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This was supposed to be the year that Gonzaga re-built. Coming off of a national title game appearance in 2017, the Bulldogs lost four of their top five scorers and few would have blamed Mark Few’s squad for losing a couple more games than normal or — gasp — finishing second in the West Coast Conference.

That didn’t happen, and our Breakout Player of the Year, Killian Tillie, is a major reason why.

Tillie came to Gonzaga prior to the 2016-17 season as a composite four-star recruit, per 247Sports. As a player coming over from France, falling outside of the top 100 recruits in the country, not a whole lot was made about his commitment.

As a freshman, he played behind Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins, making important, but rarely celebrated contributions. On a team where six players averaged double figures in scoring, Tillie ranked eighth at 4.2 points per game in just over 12 minutes.

But it was clear that he was capable of more, and if given the chance, he could be a star.

His rebounding numbers (19.0 DR%) were strong, his true shooting percentage was 62 percent, and at 6’10, he even showed he could shoot the three.

With the roster turnover heading into 2017-18, Tillie was going to have a chance to prove himself, and if the Bulldogs were going to be another second-weekend-caliber team, he’d have to do that and more.

It didn’t take long to see Tillie start to realize his potential.

He was inconsistent at the start of the year, but his 20-point game on 8-11 shooting against Utah State gave him a career high three games into the season. At the PK80 Tournament, Gonzaga lost to Florida in double overtime in what was one of the best games of the entire season. Tillie played 31 minutes and scored 17.

But Tillie didn’t truly establish himself as one of the best players in the WCC until well into conference season. From Feb. 8 until the conference title game against BYU, Tillie scored in double figures in all but one game. He was named KenPom game MVP five times, averaging 5.5 rebounds per game and shooting (not a typo) 76 percent from three. That included the WCC Tournament, where he made 13 of his 14 attempts.

And here’s the tournament MOP after the title game...

The sophomore’s importance was apparent in the NCAA Tournament when a hip injury forced him out of the Bulldogs’ Sweet 16 loss to Florida State. Gonzaga no longer had the versatile matchup nightmare on both ends — the guy who could work the post with alarming efficiency (he shot 62 percent from two-point range this year) or catch fire from the perimeter. To make matters worse, Johnathan Williams and Hachimura were hampered with foul trouble.

Tillie still has not announced his intentions for next year, but his teammate Rui Hachimura has already decided to return to Spokane. If Tillie joins him, Gonzaga will again be a top 10-15 team headed into next year.