Gonzaga has had what's for them been a rough couple of years since Adam Morrison left -- two first round exits, three straight losses in the Battle in Seattle. Is there more pressure on this team than in years past?
The pressure surrounding this team has pretty much revolved around the one-and-done performances of the last two years. There have been a lot of expectations surrounding this team, but much of the pressure was alleviated after the thrilling win over WKU. You could almost sens among Gonzaga fans and even the team that the giant monkey was off the back. In both the Akron and WKU games, the Zags came out tense, and I think that played a lot into why both games were so tight. It seemed that the guys were playing not to lose, instead of playing to win. Now that the Zags have advanced to the Sweet 16 again, the pressure seems to be off, and I expect to see this team play loose and with great energy on Friday.
The Bulldogs have the size and experience to handle the Tar Heels, and Heyvelt handled Hansbrough pretty handily in the meeting two seasons ago. What will it take for Gonzaga to win, and how much of a chance do you give them?
I really believe that the key for Gonzaga to win is making sure that Wayne Ellington does not have a huge game. No matter how much energy you put into slowing down Lawson and Hansbrough, they are still going to get their numbers. However, I believe that if the Zags can slow down Ellington, and not allow him to get into a rhythm, then Gonzaga can stay in this game until the end. The other key is the performance of Jeremy Pargo. Pargo began the season playing at the highest level I have ever seen him play at. However, he had a huge confidence crisis after the UConn game, which he has only just recently recovered from. Pargo has the rare blend of strength and quickness, which could present a challenge for Ty Lawson, and also allow him to score at will.
There's been a greater media focus on mid-major teams in recent years, and the committee seems more willing to give them higher seeds more commiserate with their actual talent. And yet this year St. Mary's and Creighton were left out, and the tournament has fewer upsets (outside the ACC at least). Do you think it's easier or harder now for a team to do as Gonzaga has and break through from unknown Cinderella to perennial basketball performer?
I think its damn near impossible for any team to do what Gonzaga has done. It's important to recognize just how unique of a situation we have here. In Mark Few, Gonzaga has one of the top coaches in the country, and he has no desire to go on to greener pastures. If you look at any other mid-major that has had success the past 10 years, one common theme is the coach will always leave for a power conference. Gonzaga also is the big draw in Spokane. There is no professional team in any league competing with the Zags, and this city and this school revolve around the basketball team. When a top recruit comes on campus and sees the commitment and passion of the fanbase and the school, it's hard to turn down the experience. I don't expect to see another Gonzaga type rise for another mid-major for a long time.