Bloomington – Tom Crean has finally zeroed in on what concerns him the most about his team's next foe, No. 5 Gonzaga.
Instead of trying to pick between the athleticism of potential first-round NBA Draft pick Josh Heytvelt, the shooting ability of Micah Downs, the versatility of Matt Bouldin and the proven leadership of Jeremy Pargo, Crean simply lumps it all together and describes Saturday's match-up in the Hartford Hall of Fame Showcase as an ulcer waiting to happen.
"There's really not anything that doesn't concern us," Crean said Thursday. "They're above average or great at every position you look at."
Coach Mark Few's team has been dominant in the early going while climbing into the nation's top five. The Zags are 5-0, including a three-game sweep of Oklahoma State, Maryland and Tennessee last week to win the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. Gonzaga won each game impressively – it whipped Maryland by 22 one night after the Terps pounded Big Ten favorite Michigan State by 18, and then opened an 18-point second half lead against No. 12 Tennessee before eventually settling for a nine-point win in the tourney finale.
The Zags are led in scoring by the 6'11", 260-pound Heytvelt (15.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg), an athletic big man who missed the final nine games of his sophomore season due to a team suspension and the first 11 games of his junior season due to a stress fracture. He's put those tough times behind him to emerge as one of the better big men in the country.
But Heytvelt is just one of the centerpieces to Few's team. Pargo has started 72 straight games at point guard and was named the MVP of the Old Spice Classic. He's averaging 9.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 7.0 assists this season. Downs is a former McDonald's All-American who averages 12.8 points and 5.6 rebounds, while Bouldin is a hard-nosed wing who contributes 11.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game. The fifth starter, forward Austin Daye, ranks second on the team in scoring (12.8) and tops the team in rebounding (7.4), and there's even a reliable sixth-man in Steven Gray who chips in 10.6 points per night.
Perhaps the only thing Few's Cinderella-turned-powerhouse program lacks this season is a big name like Adam Morrison or Ronny Turiaf, but that matters little to the 10th-year head coach, who could very well have his best Zags team ever.
"We had a good bit of experience coming back, so we're farther along than we were last year at this time," said Few, whose team went 25-8 a year ago. "This group is very balanced. Any given night we have five or six guys that can score in double figures. That's our strength. The strength is balance and versatility."
In contrast, the only adjective that's apropos for Crean's Hoosiers is youthful. In the season's first seven games they've yet to develop any sort of consistent trait, which comes as no surprise for a team made up of 14 newcomers and nine freshmen.
Despite the revamped IU roster, Few said he expects his team to have its hands full when the two teams square off Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Lucas Oil Field in the first basketball game played at the home of the Indianapolis Colts.
"We're going to have a heck of a challenge in Indiana," Few said.
The thing that probably concerns Few the most about Saturday's match-up isn't so much what Crean will put on the court, but what the IU program could put in the stands. While ticket sales need to pick up in the next couple of days for Lucas Oil Field to have a decided homecourt feel for the Hoosiers, Few expects a boisterous crowd Saturday afternoon.
"We're playing them in their homestate, and they have the greatest, most loyal fans in the world," Few said.
Crean is hoping those fans can give his team perhaps it's one and only advantage, on paper, against the Zags.
"We had 1,000 people in Maui, and I know it was a small gym but it seemed like a lot more," Crean said. "I think it can be the same way at Lucas Oil…I think it's one of those events, no matter what happens, people don't want to miss it.
"I really hope the Indiana fans and the basketball fans in the state will look at this for what it is, which is an incredible sports weekend in Indianapolis."
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