When: November 30, 2008 @ 5 PM PSTHow often do two Top 10 teams from different conferences get the opportunity to play each other twice in one season? My guess would be that this happens once every 5-10 seasons. Gonzaga and Tennessee will have the opportunity this year, as both teams have emerged from their side of the bracket to meet in the championship game of the Old Spice Classic. What makes this game so beautiful is the fact that one team will have a chance for revenge, as these two teams will play again on January 7th in Knoxville. However, for the purpose of this preview, we will be focusing solely on the game that will take place tomorrow.
Betting Line: Tennessee by 1.5
Official Game Notes
Where: The Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports. Orlando, FLTV: ESPN
Betting Line: Tennessee by 1.5
Official Game Notes
How the Zags got here: When the initial Old Spice Classic brackets were released, I'm sure many fans expected that this team had the talent to reach the championship game. However, I doubt that these fans would have guessed the path the Zags would have taken. In the opening game of the tournament, Gonzaga played some of the most sloppy and uninspired basketball I have seen in the past couple of seasons. GU trailed Oklahoma St. with 7 minutes remaining, and it seemed that this tournament was going to end before it even began. However, behind a huge spark from Ira Brown, and terrific performances from Jeremy Pargo and Micah Downs, the Zags were able to pull away down the stretch for the 83-71 victory. While the win over Oklahoma St. was expected, playing the Maryland Terrapins in the next round wasn't. With the Michigan St. Spartans coming into the tournament ranked #6, it seemed that they would be the opponent in the next round. However, Gary Williams and the Terps stunned the Spartans and moved on to the next round. It seemed that Maryland was drained both physically and emotionally after its surprising win in the first round. Gonzaga played strong basketball from start to finish, and behind Josh Heytvelt's 22 points, coasted to a 81-59 victory.
How the Vols got here: With an opening game against the Siena Saints, it seemed that UT had been given a very tricky path to the championship game. Siena was the trendy pick to be the surprise team in the tournament and give some of the higher ranked teams fits. I guess Bruce Pearl and his team didn't get this message. The Vols were the better team from start to finish in the 78-64 victory. 4 Vols scored in double figures, and they used their great depth to wear down Siena. In the next round, Tennessee and Georgetown put together a performance worthy of a national championship game. The two teams went back and forth throughout the game, but their incredible depth eventually wore down the Hoyas. Tyler Smith led the way for the Vols with 21 points, as UT was able to secure a 90-78 victory.
What We are Watching for: If Gonzaga is going to win this game, they must be able to handle the waves of pressure that UT will bring. When these teams met at the Battle in Seattle last season, the Tennessee pressure bothered GU throughout the game and never allowed the team to get in a rhythm. Gonzaga must take care of the ball and not get caught up in the frantic pace that UT plays at. It is important to understand that while the Vols play at this frantic pace, there is a brilliant method to this madness. There is no denying that many teams have a huge size advantage against Tennessee, but many teams get caught trying to play at a helter-skelter pace. GU must play at their tempo and not allow UT to dictate the pace and tempo of the game.
Looking at the match ups: With all the talent and athleticism that will be on display, this game is full of dynamite individual match ups. The one that I am most excited to watch will be Tyler Smith vs. Micah Downs. Smith is the leader of this Vols team, and perhaps the top player in the entire SEC. However, it is very rare that he will be guarded by a player who can match his length and athleticism like Micah can. We have seen Micah assume different roles depending on what is needed from him in each game, and against Tyler Smith he must be at his defensive best. Micah has proven to be a great defender, and he will need to be at his best to contain the talented Tyler Smith. It should also be fun to watch Wayne Chism and Austin Daye match up. Both these guys technically play PF for their respective teams, but neither fits the mold of the traditional PF. Austin must be aggressive on the offensive end and take the game to Chism, as he is one of the more irreplaceable players on the UT roster. If Austin has his full offensive arsenal working, he is capable of dominating Chism and taking him out of the game completely.
The Final Prediction: I have gone back and forth trying to predict who will win this game and why. With their great depth and athleticism, UT is better build for this 3 games in 4 days tournament. However, after the dominating performance that GU put together against Maryland, and the fact that they had Saturday off to prepare for the Vols, I predict Gonzaga emerges with a 83-76 win.