When you basically start of your season playing a road game against one of the most storied programs in the country, there will be some sort of hangover whatever the result should happen to be. Combine this with Gonzaga's extreme amount of youth and that Michigan State game might have a ripple effect that lasts for some time. Similar to the Connecticut game last season, playing an emotionally charged game against a top-tier opponent can set teams up for an emotional letdown and Gonzaga fans realized that with the Portland State loss. Looking at IPFW, they obviously do not have the skill that lats year's PSU team did but they have enough talent to pull off a big win or so. These type of trap games are exactly what big time programs like Gonzaga try to avoid but when you throw Michigan State in there right off the bat, it's nearly impossible.
Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne is the legal name of Gonzaga's third regular season opponent and their experience level mimics Gonzaga's of last year. They return basically every key contributor from a year ago and are kind of the sleeper pick to contend in a very solid Summit League. Upsetting Gonzaga at home in November is a tall order but the Mastodons of IPFW have a favorable spot in Gonzaga's schedule to make something happen.
Last Season: Head coach Dane Fife's fourth season in Fort Wayne was riddled with inconsistent play against one of the most difficult nonconference slates in the nation. The Mastodons played a Gonzaga-like schedule with games against ranked opponents Michigan State, Purdue, and Marquette. They did not come away victorious in any of these contests but they gave Michigan State all they could handle in their early season game. They took a two point lead with 11 minutes left in the game against the 7th ranked Spartans but Izzo's team proved to be too much to handle for IPFW. They dropped the game 70-59 but it was definitely a moral victory for Fife's squad. They finished up the year with a disappointing 13-17 record (8-10 in conference) and exited the Summit League tournament in the first round after losing to Oakland. IPFW was led by senior forward David Carson who scored nearly 15 points a game. Deilvez Yearby, a transfer from Kansas State, was named Summit League 6th man of the season for the Mastodons and broke out as one of the most dominating forwards in the conference.
New Faces: The roster for IPFW is dominated by upperclassmen and experienced players but they still bring a nice influx of new players. There are three names that should be remembered when discussing the newcomers for the Mastodons. True freshman Eli Lee comes in with a lot of expectations as he was a stand out high school player in Memphis, Tennessee. A very talented combo guard that got plenty of recruiting attention, Lee is hoping to make an immediate impact on the deep roster in Fort Wayne. He'll be called on to be a sharpshooter for IPFW but his skills stretch far beyond his ability to shoot the deep ball. Two talented junior college transfers also made their way to Fort Wayne this year and should mix well with the veteran roster. Oleg Kovalov is a versatile power forward with exceptional size and athletic ability. Kovalov is a native of Ukraine and brings a Euro-style to the Mastodons. He will provide a nice face up game for Dane Fife's team and should stretch opposing defenses. The last name to remember is Antwone Snead. Snead is another juco transfer that will add immediate help for the Mastodons in the rebound department. Snead basically averaged a double-double at Lamar Community College and has outstanding athleticism and size for a forward.
Players to Watch: One of the most exciting players in the entire Summit League last season was Deilvez Yearby. Like I mentioned earlier, Yearby is a transfer from Kansas State who burst onto the scene for the Mastodons a year ago. Named 6th man of the year in the Summit League, Yearby averaged nine points and six rebounds a game in limited action. Yearby will be one of the best shot blockers in the nation this season. He set all of IPFW's block records a year ago (54 in the year, 7 in one game). He is going to move into the starting lineup this season in his senior year and will be heavily relied on to be the man in Fort Wayne. Coach Fife has said numerous times that Yearby has all the talent in the world to make it at the next level but it all depends on his mindset. Ben Botts returns for his junior year at IPFW and is the only returner that scored in double figures a season ago. A sharpshooting extraordinaire, Botts shot over 40% from beyond the arc last season and has a killer mentality from long range. He averaged 10 points a contest his freshman year and 11.3 his sophomore year and with more of the offense flowing through him this season for the Mastodons, expect Botts to put up some big numbers. Specifically in the game against Gonzaga, Botts has no problem with taking the big shot in big games. He kept IPFW in the Michigan State game a season ago with a career high 22 points.
Concerns: Even though I may have made IPFW sound like the best team in the nation during this piece, Gonzaga should come away the victor in this match up. The major concern for the Zags will just be inexperience. The Mastodons have a very well respected coach in Dane Fife and he finally has a team with leadership and talent that could make some noise in the Summit League. Gonzaga, like I said earlier, will probably still have the result of the Michigan State fresh in their minds so we will see how that affects them. There is no doubt that they will come into Spokane with dreams of an upset in their minds and with Botts and Yearby, they have the muscle and skill to stick it to Gonzaga early. While Gonzaga will still be trying to discover their on-court chemistry, IPFW will be off and running. The Zags will also not be the Mastodons biggest early season test. They also schedule very difficult teams and will begin their season with a date against Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers.
What we are watching for: I feel like a broken record, but the main match up to watch will include Deilvez Yearby. I've already documented his skill set but I think that his match up with whoever Gonzaga puts on him in the post will be a great thing to watch. With his above average athletic ability, he is going to present some major match up issues for a guy like Andy Poling so I would expect to see a lot of Elias Harris on him. Harris is known for his defensive skills and he will need to play very well to keep Yearby in check. Mark this game on your schedule as one where Elias Harris could really start to separate himself as the starting power forward. He'll have a few games under his belt and should be playing with plenty of confidence by this time so I expect big things from Harris. With IPFW's ability to shooting the three-point shot, it will be interesting to see how Gonzaga defends them. The Zags have been plagued by hot three-point shooters in the past and if Botts can get off to a hot start, we could be in trouble.