Friday, December 5, 2008

Hall of Fame Showcase: Zags vs. Hoosiers

When: December 6th, 2008 @ 10:30 AM PST
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
TV: Big Ten Network
Betting Line: Gonzaga by 20

After meeting in the NCAA in two consecutive years, the programs at Gonzaga and Indiana have gone in opposite directions. Since the two teams met in the 2006/2007 NCAA Tournament, Gonzaga has continued to emerge as one of the top college basketball programs in the country. However, the same can not be said of the historic Indiana University Hoosiers. Last season marked the end of the Kelvin Sampson era, after the head coach was fired for his repeated recruiting infractions. Indiana was hit by NCAA penalties and the transfer of key players from the program. The hiring of Tom Crean was the first step in the right direction, as the former Marquette head coach is known for running a successful program and following the rules. While the match up tomorrow will mark a game between two programs at opposite ends of the basketball chain, there is no question that Tom Crean and the Hoosiers will be back in the very near future.

Gonzaga This Season: With a perfect 5-0 start to this season, it appears that this Gonzaga team has the mentality and talent to meet the lofty preseason expectations that have been placed on it. The highlight of this young season was winning the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving weekend. Victories over Oklahoma St. and Maryland led to the tremendous championship game against the 12th ranked Tennessee Volunteers. In one of the finer regular season performances the Zags have put together in the past couple of season, Gonzaga jumped out to an 18 point lead in the 2nd half and was able to hold for an 83-74 victory. The play of Jeremy Pargo and Josh Heytvelt has been exceptional this season, and it appears these two seniors plan on leading Gonzaga to incredible heights this season.

Indiana This Season: After the turmoil that the Indiana program went through over the past year, not many Indiana fans had high expectations entering this season. That's probably a good thing, as the Hoosiers have struggled to a 4-3 record. There have been no embarrassing losses for the Hoosiers so far, because they really don't have the talent to compete with teams like Notre Dame, St. Joseph's, and Wake Forest. Tom Crean is being forced to rely on JC transfers and freshman this season, but next year he will welcome in a highly touted recruiting class that will get IU back into Big Ten contention. At this point, Crean is searching for moral victories and trying to build a mentality of toughness and determination that will became the staple of his program for many years.

What We are Watching For: This obviously won't endear me to any IU fans, but the main thing I am watching for is whether or not Gonzaga plays down to its opponent. One of the most frustrating aspects of Zags basketball in recent memory has been the fact that GU tends to play down to the level of its opponent. The mark of an elite team is that it dominates the lesser opposition it plays, while competing against the best teams in the country. With Indiana in full fledged rebuilding mode, Gonzaga has the significant advantage in talent, athleticism, and experience. If this team is as good as everyone thinks it can be, then this game should be decided by halftime.

Looking at the Match Ups: In Tom Pritchard, IU has a PF that can score around the rim and dominate the glass. Pritchard has been nothing short of fantastic as a freshman, and it really seems that he can be a Al Horford type player at the college level. It will be fun to watch the Pritchard vs. Heytvelt match up tomorrow, as Pritchard will represent the first PF who will really "bang" in the post with Josh. Pritchard is a high-motor guy who will fight for every rebound, and it is vital that Josh dominates the glass and doesn't allow Pritchard to get cheap points off of offensive rebounds.

The Final Prediction: My advice to any team that has IU on the schedule this season is to get your shots in now, because this program will be back and competing at a high level sooner then many people think. However, with the reliance on such inexperienced and marginally talented playes this season, the Zags should coast to an 80-53 victory.

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