Sacramento: Brand Name Matchup

By Jason Owens - March 14, 2007

Indiana and Gonzaga certainly provide the most name recognition of the first-round matchups in Sacramento. But with both of the programs and states of transition, neither school is putting a vintage team on the floor.

Gonzaga's transition is short term. The Bulldogs have had to redefine themselves since their front-line force Josh Heytvelt was suspended following a drug arrest in mid February. Heytvelt was the Zags leading scorer and rebounder as well as a defensive force. He was instrumental in shutting down North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough in the Zags' upset win in the preseason NIT. With all that, head coach Mark Few says the Bulldogs are actually better off without him.

"The guys, with adversity, became closer, and this is a very close-knit team," Few said of losing Heytvelt. "I told them through adversity, opportunity will arise and someone needs to take advantage of it. A guy like Michah Downs has taken advantage of the minutes, the shots, as has David Pendergraft."

Downs has really stepped up, almost doubling his scoring average from 4.6 to 8.4 points per game since seeing his minutes increase in Heytvelt's absence.

Regradless of Few's optimism, the Zags find themselves in an unfamiliar position; they enter tournament play as underdogs.

They face an Indiana team that's in a state of long-term transition with head coach Kelvin Sampson at his first year at the helm. They had a surprising finish with a 10-6 record good for third place in the Big Ten and appear to be buying into Sampson's new brand of basketball.

"In the beginning of the year, coach took (us) and said this is our team and to follow his lead and he'll lead us to the tournament and have a great season," senior Roderick Wilmont said. "We had a great season... we just did what he told us to do and followed his lead."

Indiana succeeded by putting points on the board -- at least by Big Ten standards. The Hoosiers ranked second in the conference with 70.9 points per game while finishing seventh in scoring defense. The Zags depend on offense as well, leading the WCC in scoring while finishing in the middle of the pack on defense.

Of all the Thursday games in Sacramento, this one could provide the most highlights.

Posted by Jason Owens at 11:08 PM on March 14, 2007

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