It's the most wonderful time of the year! The NCAA Tournament is officially underway! Technically it started on Tuesday in the "first round", but now the field the full field of 64 is in action. In my opinion, the Thursday and Friday to start the tournament is as good as it gets in sports.
There's one game that's really on our radar right now. That's Gonzaga squaring off against St. John's here in Denver. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:45pm (PT) at the Pepsi Center. It's a game you can only watch on KREM 2.
I think this is one of the most interesting matchups of the tourney. I'm clearly not the only one, because several "experts" are picking Gonzaga (an 11-seed) to take down St. John's (a 6-seed). Oddsmakers aren't sure what to make of the contest either. They've only pegged the Johnnies as a point or point-and-a-half favorite.
These teams couldn't be any more different. Gonzaga likes to play a controlled style on offense, while St. John's loves to run-and-gun. It's all going to depend on who can control the tempo of the game. If the Bulldogs can slow things down, they'll be in good shape to pull off the upset. If the Red Storm get up-and-down in transition, the game could easily slip out of control. That's something to keep an eye on tonight.
Size is also going to play a major role in this one. Gonzaga is much bigger than St. John's. The Red Storm don't have one player taller than 6'8", while the Bulldogs have two 7-footers alone (Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacre). St. John's head coach Steve Lavin described them as "skyscrapers" (he sounds concerned about GU's size). Sam Dower (6'9") and Elias Harris (6'7") should also play a major role tonight.
Gonzaga will try to impose its will inside. The Johnnie's will try like hell to make sure that doesn't happen. St. John's guard Dwight Hardy explained that their zone forces teams to beat them from the 3-point line. They make it their goal to keep the ball out of the paint. That's going to be another key to game. If the Zags can't get the rock down low, they'll have to hope their shooters are on target. Gonzaga is shooting 47.9% from the field this year (the 11th best mark in the country), so stats appear to be in their favor.
The Bulldogs will also have to deal with the Johnnies' press defense. It sounds like they put the pressure on all game long (they depend on that for their transition game on offense). Demetri Goodson told me yesterday that they haven't had to deal with a press for an entire 40 minutes this season. He said it shouldn't be an issue because they've been working on a press break in practice since Selection Sunday. St. John's has the 13th best turnover margin in the country (3.7) for a reason...they're good at their craft.
When you talk about a game in Denver, you have to talk about the altitude. Steven Gray said that you could really feel a difference during the first four minutes of practice yesterday, but then he had no problem catching his "second wind". Robert Sacre agreed with him. St. John's doesn't expect it to be an issue either. They better hope that it isn't, because they don't have much depth.
The Red Storm only has two players that average double-figures. Dwight Hardy scores 18 points per game, while Justin Brownlee averages 12.2 points a contest. St. John's will be without third leading scorer D.J. Kennedy. He tore his ACL in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. That's a huge blow for the Johnnies. Kennedy averaged 10.4 points per game, but their players told me yesterday that he was the most versatile player on the team. They said they'll miss his leadership the most. Kennedy is with the team in Denver, but he will not be on the floor with them.
There's obviously a lot to watch for tonight. That's the greatest thing about sports though. You can talk about a matchup over, and over, and over again (and the analysts have), but it all comes down to how it really shakes out on the floor. I'll be honest....I'm really nervous. I'd love to see Gonzaga playing Wofford or BYU on Saturday.
We'll have full coverage of the game, including live reports from Denver, on KREM 2 News at 10pm and 11pm. You'll also be able to find tons of coverage on KREM.com. I know we plan on streaming the postgame press conferences live on our website, so stay tuned for that.
If you missed yesterday's press conference with Mark Few, Steven Gray, and Robert Sacre click here. We have the uncut interviews right now on KREM.com.
I also want to remind you that I'm tweeting like crazy from Denver. I'll post pictures before, during, and after the game. I'll also let you know about the atmosphere inside the Pepsi Center, give you courtside analysis, and much more. Be sure to follow me @TLKREM2. That's also your direct link to me, so let me know if you have any questions or comments.
That's it for now. Have fun watching the game!