DENVER -- We've done a lot of advance work on this, St. John's first NCAA tournament game in nine years. We've talked about its opponent, the loss of D.J. Kennedy, role players who need to step up, and the importance of Steve Lavin's leadership.
Now, three nuts-and-bolts things to watch when the Zags and the Red Storm finally take the floor here at the Pepsi Center.
ATTACK MODE: Don't be surprised to see Gonzaga play a zone -- several teams did that to St. John's the past couple weeks, and the Red Storm did not look nearly as comfortable as they did in thier man-to-man offense. St. John's must attack a zone aggressively, moving the ball around the perimeter quickly and getting the ball into the high post to Justin Brownlee or Sean Evans. That will create opportunities for others, if not for themselves.
GLASS WORK: Gonzaga is ranked No. 21 in the nation in rebounding margin, outboarding opponents by 5.9 per game. St. John's is ranked No. 188 (and 281st in rebounds per game), and will be without its leading rebounder, D.J. Kennedy. Evans, Brownlee and Justin Burrell must attack the glass hard to compensate for being undersized -- Gonzaga's leading rebounder, Robert Sacre, is seven feet tall.
ANXIETY ATTACK? St. John's has nine seniors, but none of them have played in an NCAA tournament game. Gonzaga has been to 13 consecutive NCAA tournaments, and starts a senior, three juniors and a sophomore -- all with Big Dance experience. Will St. John's look composed early, or will the gravity of the moment inhibit them in the early going?
We'll find out in about two hours.