New York City, N.Y. - Madison Square Garden
9 p.m., ESPN2
"They have great athletes and a great coach. He gets the best of the best and then he coaches them. It's a lethal combination. We'll have to play very, very well." -- Mark Few
"That's what you live for, a big game on a big stage." -- Derek Raivio
"It's a great opportunity for us to shine and show the nation what we can do." -- Josh Heytvelt.
No More Morrison: The poster boy for Gonzaga basketball, Adam Morrison, has left Spokane. The 6-8 sharpshooter was the nation's leading scorer at 28.1 points per game, but the other key departure for the Zags was center J.P Batista, who averaged 19.3 points and 9.4 boards a year ago. In total, the team entered 2006-07 having lost 59% of its scoring from the previous season.
Filling the Void: Senior point guard Derek Raivio (16.5 ppg) has taken the lead in terms of perimeter scoring. He's actually third on the team in assists, as he's deferred some of the passing duties to backcourt mate Jeremy Pargo and in turn increased his scoring output. Raivio is just 6-of-21 on three-point attempts through four games, but entered the season a career 42% three-point shooter. Shooting guards Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes (56% 3pt) and Matt Bouldin (60% 3pt) have been the team's best long range shooters so far.
Up Front: The Gonzaga frontline should be the first good test for the heralded Tar Heel post players. Not that any team on UNC's schedule can necessarily match the depth of UNC's frontline, but the Zags have three worthy big men (though they start a small lineup of three guards 6-3 or shorter plus two big men). Sophomore Josh Heytvelt redshirted in 2004-05 and was hampered by injuries for much of 2005-06, but has started this season in impressive fashion. Heytvelt was a Top 50 recruit out of Washington who turned down scholarship offers from Kansas and Arizona to attend Gonzaga. Through four games this year, he's the team's leading scorer (17.5 ppg) and rebounder (5.8 rpg). An agile 6-11, 238 post player, he put forth a dominating 25-point, 11-rebound performance against Rice last week. Alongside Heytvelt in the Zags' frontcourt is senior Sean Mallon, a steady four-year contributor who is putting up 10.0 points and 4.0 rebounds this season. Coming off the bench is Abdullahi Kuso, a JuCo transfer, who posted 15 points and 12 boards on Sunday against Texas-San Antonio. The Zags' three additional post players aren't expected to be factors in this game -- 7-4 freshman Will Foster by all accounts isn't ready for big-time hoops, while 6-10 Dave Burgess (brother of former Duke Blue Devil, Chris) and 6-9 Theo Davis are sidelined with injuries.
Easy Road ... Thus Far: As a member of a mid-major conference, the Zags make sure to put together a tough non-conference schedule to boost their RPI come Tournament time. This season is no different, with a number of high major-level opponents (Texas, Washington, Duke, Memphis, etc.) slated, in addition to this NIT Season Tip-Off. But leading up to this game, they have not been challenged by that level of an opponent. They beat Rice and Texas-San Antonio by an averaged of 41 points and coasted to a 15-point win over Eastern Washington. In their sole single-digit win, a 78-69 victory over Baylor to advance to play UNC, the Zags led throughout -- and by as many as 19 points in the second half -- despite very poor first-half shooting by Baylor (25% FG, 9% 3pt).
Future Star: No one is ready to crown him the next Adam Morrison, but Matt Bouldin clearly has star potential. The versatile 6-5 freshman was ranked the No. 1 shooting guard on the West Coast in the senior class last year by Scout.com and hasn't disappointed through the first four games. He's averaging 7.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and a team-high 4.3 assists coming off the bench. Bouldin shot 5-of-5 (including 2-2 3pt) in the season opener against Eastern Washington.
Few Equals: Zags coach Mark Few has a remarkable track record. In seven seasons at Gonzaga, he's made the NCAA Tournament every year, including three Sweet 16 appearances. The team has averaged just under 27 wins per year under Few and has lost only 1.3 conference games per season. Few's career record at Gonzaga makes him the winningest seventh-year head coach in NCAA Division I history, surpassing such big names as Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Larry Brown (UCLA) and Roy Williams (Kansas).
Series History: This will be the first-ever meeting between Gonzaga and North Carolina. The Zags are 7-1 all-time against the ACC, with six of those wins coming against ranked teams.
Background Location: Spokane, Wash. Enrollment: 6,108 Conference: West Coast Nickname: Bulldogs (or Zags) Colors: Blue, White & Red Head Coach: Mark Few Record at GU: 192-41 (8th year) Last Year: 29-4 (14-0, 1st)
Projected Starters: 5 Derek Raivio (6-3, 177, Sr.) – 16.5 ppg, 2.3 apg 2 Jeremy Pargo (6-2, 219, So.) – 9.0 ppg, 2.8 apg 4 Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes (6-0, 182, Jr.) - 9.3 ppg 32 Sean Mallon (6-9, 223, Sr.) - 10.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg 42 Josh Heytvelt (6-11, 238, So.) – 17.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg Key Reserves: 15 Matt Bouldin (6-5, 214, Fr.) – 5.8 ppg 25 David Pendergraft (6-6, 223, Jr.) – 4.2 ppg 31 Abdullahi Kuso (6-9, 228, Jr.) – 1.3 ppg, 2.0 apg
Heytvelt ....... Altidor-Cespedes
Pargo ....... Bouldin
Mallon ....... Raivio
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)