The 2004/2005 Gonzaga men's basketball team, once again, will face a formidable non-conference schedule. Today we take a look at that schedule and the opponents GU will be facing:
Friday, 11/19 vs. Portland State = The Vikings were 11-16 last season, 5-9 in Big Sky play. PSU might be improved but the last time Gonzaga and Portland State hooked up, it was a 40+ point blowout. Being the inaugeral game in GU's new arena, the McCarthey Athletic Center, the Zags should be fired up enough to win this handily.
Sunday, 11/21 vs. Montana = The Grizzlies were 10-18 last season, 6-8 in Big Sky play, but that was under an underachieving regime led by former head coach Pat Kennedy. Enter former Grizzly great Larry K as head coach and better recruits led by Yakima's 6'9" Andrew Strait. Montana will have two tough games under their belt by the time this game tips off, so the Griz could either be tough and battle-tested or tired and beaten down. They will also be adjusting to a new system, which always takes time.
Wednesday, 11/24 vs. Idaho = The Vandals were 14-16 last season, 9-9 in Big West play. The Vandals return to the GU campus once again this year. As everyone remembers, Idaho put up a very good fight most of the game last year before GU pulled away late. Although Idaho lost leading scorer Tyrone Hayes, who lit up GU for 20 points last year, they do return shooting ace Tanoris Shepard (8 PPG), who scored 14 against the Zags. The Vandals will rely on their usual intensity and a mixture of highly athletic newcomers (mostly Juco's) and veterans against the Zags. Leonard Perry has been improving this team year by year and was just rewarded with a contract extension. Look for gang from Moscow, Idaho, to be tougher to beat than last year.
Saturday, 11/27 vs. Illinois (at Indianapolis) = The Fighting Illini were 26-7 last season, 13-3 in Big Ten play. This game takes place in Indianapolis as a part of the Wooden Tradition. Illinois figures to be one of the best teams in the land next year after their nice Sweet 16 run in the NCAA tournament. The strength of the Illini lies in their great backcourt of point guard Dee Brown (13.3 PPG, 4.5 APG) and off guard Deron Williams (14 PPG, 6.2 APG). Both guards are quick and are good passers, and both will pose a tremendous challenge for GU's young guards on both ends of the floor. Big man James Augustine (9.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG) and the other Illini bigs will also be tough. Illinois is an experienced team coming off of a Big 10 regular season title, and all of its starters are returning. They will be a force to be reckoned with on this day and in March. After playing three teams that Gonzaga should beat, this will be the key barometer for the Zags to measure just where they stand. Illinois did great under a new head coach last year, they'll only be that much better this year.
Wednesday, 12/1 vs. Washington = The Huskies were 19-12 last season, 12-6 in Pacific 10 play. The Huskies head into this season with a good deal of positive momentum, despite losing two in a row to end the season, the last being their opening round close loss to UAB in the NCAA tournament. Few teams in recent memory turned their season around in such a quick manner as did UW last year, who ended up finishing 2nd in the Pac-10 and giving Stanford their only regular season loss. All of the core ingredients return for the Huskies, including 5 starters who averaged in double figures. The strength of UW lies, as usual, in their athletic guard play. Point guard Nate Robinson (13.2 PPG) and his side kicks Brandon Roy (12.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG) and Will Conroy (12.3 PPG) really gelled the second half of last season, and they will be a handful to deal with this season.
Saturday, 12/4 vs. Massachusetts (at Seattle) = The Minutemen were 10-19 last season, 4-12 in Atlantic 10 play. This year's Battle in Seattle opponent is UMass. While the Minutemen struggled last season, they return all 5 starters and figure to make a real push in the A-10 title race. UMass is anchored by senior point guard Anthony Anderson (12.9 PPG), who is a four year starter. Rashaun Freeman (15.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG) was the top big man in the A-10 last year and he was just a freshman! Coach Steve Lappas has also brought in a couple of very nice recruits in Connecticut all state performer Jeff Salovski and Pierre-Marie Altidor-Cespedes' teammate at Champlain St. Lambert, forward Olivier Lamoureux.
Tuesday, 12/7 at Washington State = The Cougars were 13-16 last season, 7-11 in Pacific 10 play. Coach Dick Bennett returns for his 2nd season in Pullman, and the Cougar program appears to be picking up momentum. Last year's bunch improved quite a bit as the season moved along as pre-existing players blended into Bennett's system. Now Bennett brings some of his own kids into the system. Wazzu will be led by Jeff Varem, a strong, versatile guard who didn't play much against Gonzaga last year but came on strong in Pac-10 play and gave opposing teams headaches. Wazzu also returns off guard Thomas Kelati (11.1 PPG) who shot 44.4% from 3 point land last year. A real nice group of freshmen recruits will be called on to contribute, including guard Derrick Low and a very good shooting guard from California. Expect this game to be nothing like last year's blowout at the old Kennel. Pullman is always tough to get W's.
Saturday, 12/11 vs. St. Louis = The Billikens were 19-13 last season, 9-7 in Conference USA play. St. Louis has made the NIT the last two seasons, and Coach Brad Soderberg is a big believer that this Billiken bunch will make the NCAA tournament. This will be a challenging home game for the Zags in their new arena. It must also be noted that this is St. Louis' final year in C-USA. Many of the big teams in that league figure to be good this year as well (Louisville, Charlotte, etc.), making this home game especially important. The Billikens lost 2 of their 3 top scorers from last year, but return their leading scorer and likely all-league performer in guard Reggie Brown (16.4 PPG). Senior Tom Frericks (7.7 PPG, 6 RPG) will be a force underneath. St. Louis was one of the best defensive teams in the nation last year, holding teams to 59.9 points per game. That doesn't figure to change this season.
Saturday, 12/18 vs. Georgia Tech (at Las Vegas) = The Yellow Jackets were 28-10 last season, 9-7 in ACC play. This game will take place in Las Vegas as part of the Las Vegas Showdown. The Yellow Jackets had a fairytale year last year – going from a preseason where they weren't even ranked in the top 25, to taking it all the way to the national title game. Four of the five starters from that Jacket team, including point guard Jarrett Jack (12.5 PPG, 5.6 APG, 4.9 RPG), off guard B.J. Elder (14.9 PPG) and center Luke Schenscher (9.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG), return to lead one of the best teams in the nation. While Tech's outstanding guard play and raw athleticism on the defensive and offensive end is critically important to their success, the extraordinary development of Schenscher made the Jacket guards even more venomous for opponents during the NCAA tourney last season. Jack is especially a force – a fearless, poised player who made clutch plays throughout the NCAA tournament. While Tech lost guard Marvin Lewis, most of the other cast of characters from Will Bynum (9.6 PPG) to the high flying Isma'il Muhammad (9.3 PPG) return, and one of the newcomers, center/forward Ra'Sean Dickey, will be one of the best freshman in the ACC next year. Tech also has 3 more top 100 kids coming in. In sum, Georgia Tech is as loaded as anyone in the country this season, and is a major threat to win it all.
Tuesday, 12/21 vs. Eastern Washington (at Spokane Arena) = The Eagles were 17-13 last season, 11-3 in Big Sky play and earned an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time in school history. The defending Big Sky champs have a new head coach in Mike Burns but the Eags shouldn't break stride since Burns assisted departed coach Ray Giacoletti for years. Lost are key players like Alvin Snow and Brendan Merritt, but a huge incoming freshmen class promises to complement returning players like PG Danny Pariseau and PF Matt Nelson, plus super athletic SF Henry Bekkering who redshirted last year. This game is always hotly contested with GU and EWU only a few miles apart, fighting for bragging rights. The group from Cheney, WA, will test the young Zags, if the past is any indicator of the future.
Tuesday, 12/28 at Oklahoma State (at Oklahoma City) = The Cowboys were 31-4 last season, 14-2 in Big 12 play. This game takes place at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City as a part of the All-College Classic. After last season's Final 4 appearance and near appearance in the title game, the Cowboys return with a loaded squad. They lost leading scorer Tony Allen, but most of the key elements from last year's tremendous team return, plus some talented newcomers in Top 100 off guard JamesOn Curry and Juco big man Aaron Pettway. Point guard John Lucas (15.1 PPG, 4.5 APG) and forward Joey Graham (12.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG) lead an offensive attack that was one of the best in the nation a year ago. Oklahoma State, in many ways, is a mirror image of Gonzaga both in its offensive efficiency and is team-first mentality. It will be a real test for GU's young guns. Coach Eddie Suttan has always stressed tough defensive and with OSU's frontline it'll be a true war on the boards.
Thursday, 12/30 at Missouri = The Tigers were 16-14 last season, 9-7 in Big 12 play. After beating Mizzou last year in the Battle in Seattle game, the Zags head to Columbia this season to play a game at the Tigers' new Paige Sports Arena. While the Tigers lost 4 starters, including Ricky Paulding and Arthur Johnson, they return with many familiar faces, including big man stud Linas Kleiza (11.1 PPG, 8.4 RPG) and guard Jimmy McKinney (9.4 PPG). Also returning is Jason Conley (7.6 PPG), the nation's leading scorer two years ago, who finally started showing flashes of his old VMI self toward the end of last season. Coach Quin Snyder brings in a solid recruiting class which includes 4 Top 100 players lead by point guard Jason Horton. The Hearns Center was for years one of the tougher places to play in the nation, and Mizzou's new digs figure to be tough as well. Questions about distractions to the Tigers may remain an issue as the NCAA looks into violations.
Tuesday, 1/25 vs. Northern Colorado = The Bears were 6-22 last season as an Independent Division I team. The 2004/05 season marks the second year of a 4 year reclassification process to Division I for the UNC athletic department. The Bears return 3 starters, but were a team that was decimated by injuries last season. Four players went down with season ending injuries last year, including starting point guard Sean Nolen, who averaged 18.1 PPG his junior year and who figures to break the all-time UNC assists mark this season. Two notable returning starters include guard Matt Kline (8.4 PPG) and starting wing Erik Olson (11.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG). They also bring in freshman guard Sean Taibi, who was not only considered the best Colorado state high school player last year, but who is also considered the most heralded UNC recruit ever. The Bears make their living from the 3 point line. They figure to be much improved, but their schedule is brutal, kicking off with a game at Syracuse. Coach Jerry Krause received his master's and doctorate degrees from UNC, and served as an assistant coach there for 3 years before his tenure at Eastern Washington began.