November 14, 2010

Q & A: Gonzaga Blog 'The Slipper Still Fits'

Continuing a series I started last post-season, I was able to do a little emailing with the Gonzaga blog The Slipper Still Fits. They were kind enough to answer a few questions about what is expected of the Zags, and what to expect out of today's game. My portion of the Q & A can be found here.

Student on Sports: What's it like to be THE Gonzaga? Is the pressure as much as it seems?
The Slipper Still Fits: As surprising as it may seem, I would really only say that the "pressure" or "expectations" have taken off in the past couple of years. Since Spokane is a fairly small and tight-knit city, everyone rallies around the basketball team and almost approaches it with the thought of how lucky this city is to have an elite college basketball power.
However, over the past couple of years, highlighted by the back-to-back first round tournament exits at the hands of Indiana and Davidson, there was a noticeable amount of fans/experts who started to believe that merely being ranked and making the NCAA Tournament isn't enough. Even with the rare grumbles and heightened expectations, Gonzaga doesn't face the criticism that a team like Kansas or North Carolina might face after a first-round elimination.
SoS: How does playing in the WCC affect the on-court toughness compared to a team of equal ability that plays in, say, the Pac-10?
TSSF: I think that is one of the most difficult questions to figure out when it comes to this program. Due to the perception that the WCC is Gonzaga and its seven little sisters, the Zags are forced to play a grueling (in both opponent and travel) non-conference schedule. For example, this year sees Xavier, San Diego St, Illinois and Memphis come to Spokane or Seattle, while also facing Kansas St., Washington St, Duke/Marquette, Baylor and Notre Dame on the road. I'm sure if you asked Mark Few and the coaching staff if they would like to cut down the travel in the non-conference and be able to play a difficult, but localized, conference schedule, they would jump at the opportunity.
However, for fans that follow the WCC closely, it seems clear that this league does a nice job of testing Gonzaga. St. Mary's is coming off a Sweet 16 season, and teams like LMU and Santa Clara are expected to be strong this season. The other reason that this league is good for the Zags is because this teams faces everyone's "A" game. Teams that normally draw 750 people at a game suddenly have a gym that is sold out when Gonzaga comes to town. Factor in that BYU joins the league next year, and the WCC continues to be good for Gonzaga. 
SoS: Some experts are putting Gonzaga in the National Championship game already...How can the Zags make sure that happens?
TSSF: If you've had the chance to follow our preseason coverage, then you probably have noticed we are on the same wavelength as the experts. On paper, this team probably isn't as good as the '09 team that featured Austin Daye and Jeremy Pargo, but at the same time, there is no team as dominant and talented as North Carolina was that year (UNC knocked out GU in the Sweet 16).
The two keys for this team to make the Final 4 are health and avoiding the brutal loss. This GU team has nice depth and talent about 9-deep, but an injury to either Steven or Elias Harris would leave this team in disarray. Both Steven and Elias have NBA careers waiting for them and are elite prospects at their position. Even during the preseason, Elias has battled a shoulder injury he initially picked up playing for the German National team this summer at the FIBA World Championships. However, if this team can stay healthy, then the sky is the limit.
When I say avoid the brutal loss, what I mean is that there can't be any losses to a sub 150 RPI type team. For example, a couple of years ago, GU lost to Portland St after a heartbreaking loss to UConn. That loss to PSU likely dropped Gonzaga from a 3 seed to a 4 seed, which meant a matchup with UNC in the Sweet 16. If this team can avoid those type of losses, it should be able to compete for a 2 or 3 seed, which would be huge for the Final 4 hopes.
SoS: Does IUPUI's high-tempo, high-percentage game put them at an advantage over the Bulldogs? Or how well can they successfully make the Jaguars play to their style?
TSSF: Gonzaga should have no problem playing a high-tempo opponent, as that's the style of play this group is most comfortable playing. However, the type of team that always gives GU a problem is a team that can shoot the three-pointer at a high percentage. For some reason, not matter what type of defense Gonzaga is playing, teams seem to shoot an extraordinarily high perecentage from behind the arc. If IUPUI can consistently hit shots from the perimeter, that could give this group fits.


Thanks again to The Slipper Still Fits, I wish them tons of good returns during their basketball season!

There will be a live chat for today's game starting about 3:50 pm ET.