We're officially on the road with the Gonzaga men's basketball team at the NCAA Tournament. We landed in Denver around 3:30pm (PT). When I say "we" I'm referring to my photographer Brett Allbery (the best in the business as far as I'm concerned) and me. We'll be with the Bulldogs every step of the way as they prepare for Thursday's showdown against St. John's (6:45pm/KREM 2) in the Big Dance.
UPDATE: There wasn't much to report on our flight. It's such an easy trip from Spokane to Denver (it took us less than two hours). The Idaho women's basketball team was on our plane. They play against South Dakota in the Women's Invitational Tournament on Thursday. It sounded like their connecting flight in Denver was delayed. That's one of the bonuses of GU playing in a location with a direct flight...no layovers. Other than the Vandals being on our plane, the travel was very uneventful and easy (thankfully).
Without getting too much into Gonzaga's matchup, I think the Bulldogs received a favorable draw by the committee. The Zags weren't exactly blessed with an 11-seed, but St. John's is a very up-and-down team this year (losses to St. Mary's, St. Bonaventure, and Fordham; wins against Duke, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, and Connecticut). To make matters worse, the Johnnies will be playing without third leading scorer D.J. Kennedy after he tore his ACL in the Big East Tournament. It's an unfortunate injury (he's a senior), but it could help Gonzaga's cause. If the Bulldogs get past the Red Storm, they'll face either BYU or Wofford in the following round. I don't want to look too far ahead, but let's be real...both of those teams are beatable (especially BYU without Brandon Davies). One game at a time though, right?
I was a little disappointed when Denver popped up on the screen Sunday, but only for selfish reasons. I've been there several times before, including a trip to the NCAA Tournament with Washington State in 2008. I really enjoy seeing new places when we travel for the tournament. I like eating the foods that are unique to the city (BBQ in Memphis, Charlotte, and Frisco, original hot wings in Buffalo, etc.) and seeing the cool local landmarks (Niagara Falls, Graceland, etc.). Denver is a beautiful city and there's plenty to do there, but there's nothing that makes it extremely unique (especially when you come from Washington...we've all seen mountains before). With that said, I'll take any location for the tournament over Buffalo. That city was TERRIBLE!
You couldn't ask for a better spot if you're Gonzaga. As Robert Sacre pointed out on Sunday, "There isn't a flight that leaves Spokane that doesn't go through Denver." The players are amped that they received a close location (the closest spot in the tournament this year). Washington State fans showed up in droves a few years ago, so I expect a great showing from the Gonzaga faithful as well. As for St. John's (located in Queens, New York), they have to travel half way across the country (1,784 miles) and then play a game that starts at 9:45pm (ET). That just doesn't seem fair.
The altitude might be a factor for both teams, but it could especially bother the Johnnies. New York City sits no more than 300 feet above sea level (I couldn't find an exact number...just a colored graph that was hard to understand), while Spokane is around 2,000 feet. Denver is obviously called "The Mile-High City" for a reason...it's exactly 5,280 feet above sea level. It doesn't seem like it would be a big deal, but it might affect the players and coaches. I don't think they can get used to the atmosphere within a day or two (but I'm also not a scientist).
Gonzaga and St. John's get right to work on Wednesday. Both practice at off-site locations and then head to the Pepsi Center for media availability and an open-to-the-public shootaround. St. John's holds its press conference from 3:30pm-3:45pm (PT), while the Bulldogs are available from 5:00pm-5:15pm (PT). We'll stream both press conferences live on KREM.com for all to see.
It's going to be a busy day for us as well. We'll have full coverage of the Bulldogs and Red Storm in Denver on KREM 2 News at 5pm, 6pm, 10pm, and 11pm. We also have our "Bulldog Madness Special" scheduled for 6:30pm on KREM 2. That includes live reports with yours truly from the Pepsi Center.
To keep you company until then, we have plenty of uncut interviews with the Zags from Selection Sunday right now on KREM.com. You can hear from Steven Gray, David Stockton, Robert Sacre, and Mark Few. You can also watch a live interview I did with Marquise Carter on Sunday by clicking here (it's the video linked to the story).
UPDATE: We also caught up with the Bulldogs as they were leaving McCarthey Athletic Center on Tuesday. They flew into Denver this afternoon as well. Click here for more on that story.
I usually only have time to blog once a day on these trips, but I'll constantly be tweeting from Denver. I'll try my best to bring the entire tournament experience to those of you who can't be there. I'll post behind-the-scenes photos, give you a feel for what the atmosphere is like, and much more. Be sure to follow me @TLKREM2 for all the latest!
That's all I have for now. I probably won't be able to post a blog until later on Wednesday (even though I'll try to get something up sooner rather than later), because of the media availability and practice times. Until then...have a great day!
One last thing...don't forget to put your bracket against mine in the KREM.com March Mayhem Bracket Challenge (I'm pretty sure that's the official name, but I'm not positive). It's free to play and you can win great prizes (including Spokane Shock season tickets). Click here to join the fun!
OK...now I'm really done. Go Zags!