The best matchup of the four games at the Coaches vs. Cancer event at Madison Square Garden figures to be Gonzaga vs. Saint Joseph's on Friday (ESPN2, 9:30 p.m. ET). Coach Mark Few's Zags are the highest-ranked team in the event, sitting 12th in the preseason ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.
A lot has been said about Gonzaga being a Cinderella team and a mid-major. Forget about it ... as ESPN.com's Andy Katz wrote recently, this school doesn't like those titles. Those of us in the basketball world know this program is not a mid-major in stature, as shown by the top-15 ranking.
When using the term mid-major, we're talking about facilities, revenue and recruiting budgets. When talking about coaching and the skills of the players, Gonzaga's success has placed the Spokane-based school in the limelight, baby!
|Expect guard Blake Stepp and Gonzaga to reach the Final Four this March.|
Who could forget 1999, when Gonzaga came so close to beating Connecticut, falling by just five points. The Huskies went on to cut down the nets in Tampa, shocking Duke to win the national title. Connecticut was really challenged in that Elite Eight matchup with the Zags, showing just how close Gonzaga came to making the Final Four.
Will this be the year the Zags make it to San Antonio and get to the next level, becoming the first "mid-major" to make the Final Four since a guy named Larry Bird led Indiana State to the title game in 1979? Penn of the Ivy League also reached the Final Four that year.
Few is one of the hot names in coaching, along with Tom Crean at Marquette. Those two are quality people, too.
Let me tell you, Few is the total package. He can recruit, he can coach and he has personality-plus. When I spoke to him recently about this year's team, he doesn't dodge it, he simply says they will be good.
There have been some injury problems in the preseason. Ronny Turiaf, Tony Skinner and Errol Knight have missed significant practice time. But they should be ready to go come crunch time. When they're healthy, watch out.
Few is excited about several newcomers. Forward Sean Mallon, a 6-9 diaper dandy from Spokane, was happy to stay at home. He will be thrilled to play at Gonzaga's new field house next year, which will be rocking like the Kennel.
There is excitement galore over Knight, a transfer from the University of Washington. He will be an impact player, with tremendous athletic ability and explosiveness. The talented Knight gives the Zags a special dimension they did not have in the past.
Then there is 6-8 Adam Morrison, who emulates everything like the kid from French Lick, Indiana, one Larry Bird! Wait till you see him ... he was brilliant, scoring 29 points in a recent intrasquad scrimmage. If he can play with 1/10th of the ability of Bird, he will be special.
So there is enthusiasm (and justifiably so) over Gonzaga. Just look at the track record, with former coach Dan Monson before he went to Minnesota, and now with Few. Blake Stepp and Co. will comprise a super team.
I can't wait to see the Zags take on coach Phil Martelli's dynamic Hawks and Jameer Nelson on Friday night. This game will be a real treat.
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