Away Games a Must

With road games dominating Gonzaga's 2006-07 ooc schedule, the Bulldogs will be called upon to become Road Warriors and win far more than they lose against some of the most marquee teams in the country. We take a look at a possible scenario.

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The Nov. 14, 2006, NIT Preseason Tipoff Classic game in the Spokane Arena this fall will mark a first in the Mark Few era that Gonzaga will begin a 3-game schedule on the Spokane neutral court, beginning with Rice University and ending February 17, 2007, with Memphis University.

In previous seasons that Gonzaga advanced in the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs proved to be tough away from the old Kennel and the new Kennel, compiling an impressive record away from the comfort zone of home, including wins over UCLA, Maryland, Michigan State, Texas, St. John's, Utah, Fresno State, New Mexico, St. Joseph's, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Georgia, Washington, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech and many more on the road.

Mark Few-led Gonzaga teams have always been known for their demanding schedules and willingness to play anyone anywhere anytime. Protecting the home court advantage is obvious but more critical to overall success is winning the away games that have been scheduled for 2006-2007.

It's not surprising to find that Gonzaga's best teams both away from home and overall have had dominant seniors on the roster to provide leadership and experience, and with a special NBA Lottery pick junior acting like any senior.

After all, what could be more valuable than seniors Ryan Floyd (2000) or Dan Dickau (2002) or Blake Stepp (2004) instructing younger teammates on how to deal with UCLA in Pauley Pavilian, or the wild atmospheres during critical situations against St. Joe's or Maryland? The same could be said about Ronny Turiaf (2005) helping his young comrades deal with the ultra-talented Georgia squad in overtime in the Spokane Arena, or Adam Morrison (2006) going crazy against Michigan State in Maui, or J.P. Batista (2006) lighting up Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City.

Heading into the 2006-2007 campaign, only two seniors and a very slim list of experienced players will be around to try and do the same thing for underclassmen on the roster, but it will be a huge challenge. This will be the toughest non-conference season ever scheduled by the Zags and taken on by a new team that will need to discover 50 lost points, a new identity and new roles by everyone.

It is imperative that seniors Derek Raivio and Sean Mallon rise up as leaders to impart their wisdom and experience on the younger guys if Gonzaga is to be successful in winning the WCC title and emerge victorious in important away games against powerful teams like Duke, Texas, Georgia, Memphis and Virginia in out of conference play.

Then, of course, the Bulldogs will have to win on the road to make a run in the NCAA Tournament come March, when game locations could include Spokane or Sacramento the opening weekend; San Jose or San Antonio for the regionals, and then Atlanta if the Zags are somehow good enough to advance to the Final Four as was the case last season.

Ultimately what matters is Gonzaga improving dramatically from November to February and March. With seven conference road games, it generally takes a 5-2 mark if winning the WCC title is realistic, and in order for the Zags to achieve a goal of earning a high seed for the NCAA Tournament, it is likely that GU will need to win five conference road games as well as far more wins than losses on hostile or neutral courts against Virginia, Nevada, Georgia, Stanford and Washington State on the road, and then earning a split against Duke, Memphis, Texas and the two NIT teams in Madison Square Garden, which will likely include two of North Carolina, Marquette or Indiana and Tennessee.

Accomplishing those goals would give Gonzaga approximately a 13-6 record away from home heading into the WCC Tournament in Portland. Going on to capture the tournament title with two more wins would give the Bulldogs a very impressive 15-6 mark in away games (add at least 10 home wins of 12 home games equals 25-8 overall) along with an expected top-10 RPI and strength of schedule, making Gonzaga a likely top-four seed come Selection Sunday and a legit chance to play its first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament just down the road in the Spokane Arena.

Earning that protected seed would almost definitely mean being placed in the (West) San Jose Region.

Playing well and winning games away from home could mean the difference between four possible tournament games nearby in the west or being shipped out east to the dreaded East Rutherford Regional with opening weekend games in a place like Buffalo.

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