Bloomington, Ind. – A variety of words came to IU players' minds when the NCAA Selection Committee unveiled IU's seeding, opponent, and location for this year's NCAA Tournament.
For some, thoughts went to talk of revenge for last year's 90-80 Gonzaga win in Salt Lake City, a victory that send the Zags to the regional in San Francisco and sent the Hoosiers back home to Bloomington for the off-season.
For others, it was about karma. After all, Sacramento was the early round site for Indiana in 2002 when second-year coach Mike Davis' Hoosiers beat Utah and then UNC-Wilmington at Arco Arena to get their Final Four run started. That march culminated at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, which is once again the site of this year's Final Four.
While there are some peculiar coincidences about the Hoosiers' postseason path, ultimately it's all about the opportunity the Hoosiers will have beginning Thursday when they face Gonzaga (23-10) at 10 p.m. in Sacramento.
"We were going to be happy with anything," senior Errek Suhr said after the NCAA field was announced. "We're excited to be in. The seven seed is great – we get a chance to play a team like Gonzaga, and then in the second round go against a team like UCLA. It's a blessing to be in, and to get any seed is great for us."
There's little question, though, that IU will have an opportunity to make its presence felt in Sacramento. Coach Kelvin Sampson's team will open against a Gonzaga team that should prove to be a good match-up for the Hoosiers. Like Indiana, the strength of the Zags is in the backcourt, where Derek Raivio and Jeremy Pargo combine to average more than 30 points and seven assists per game.
"I've kind of been a fan of their guards, Raivio and Pargo," said IU freshman Armon Bassett. "I respect their guards, so it's going to be fun playing against those caliber of players."
But the backcourt talent doesn't stop there. Coach Mark Few's squad also has plenty of depth, as six-foot-five Matt Bouldin (8.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.0 apg) and 6-foot-8 Kansas transfer Micah Downs (8.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg) are both reliable offensive options from the perimeter, while Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespides (3.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg) was a starter a year ago.
But up front the Zags don't get a tremendous amount of productively, particularly in the paint. Six-foot-nine forward Sean Mallon (7.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg) is more of a factor facing up than he is with his back to the basket, and 6-9 junior college transfer Abdullahi Kuso is more of a presence on the defensive end. One of their better scorers on the block is actually 6-6, 223-pound guard David Pedergraft (7.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg) who will come off the bench and see 20-plus minutes of action.
While Gonzaga will be a tough test, they don't have the sort of dominating inside game or frontcourt length that would instantly give the Hoosiers some real match-up problems. The Hoosiers also have last year's game to provide added motivation. After all, Gonzaga pulled away down the stretch to end the Hoosiers' season and the IU coaching career of Mike Davis. Despite the loss, IU's players have some added confidence as well knowing they went toe-to-toe with a Gonzaga team that had two of the nation's elite players in Adam Morrison and J.P. Batista, both of whom are gone now.
"(Last year's game) gives us a little more confidence," A.J. Ratliff said. "But they're still a good team. We can't go in and say they aren't as good because they don't have Morrison or Batista like last year. They still have some key players that play good team ball."
Ultimately It's About Opportunity for IU
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