A big game for Elias Harris could lead to more smiles like this from Coach Few and the rest of the team. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Although there were numerous times throughout the season that I couldn't wait to start looking forward to the 2011-2012 campaign, it's almost surreal to now realize that this roller-coaster ride of a year is nearing its end. The team that is standing in the path of this season extending another 40 minutes is St. John's. The Red Storm surprised a lot of people this season,as first-year head coach Steve Lavin has brought energy and excitement back to New York City. Although Lavin is only in his first season, he inherited a veteran team that was clearly talented enough to give him a chance to win in his first season in New York.
The first thing that jumps out when you watch St. John's play is the combination of athleticism and toughness that permeates throughout the roster. Although it isn't a huge frontcourt, guys like Justin Burrell, Sean Evans and Justin Brownlee play big and will battle the Gonzaga frontcourt throughout the game. However, if Gonzaga is going to win this game, it must look to take advantage of the size advantage. Even though the Red Storm will play with physicality and mix up defenses to try and confuse and disrupt the Gonzaga offense, there must be a concerted effort to get the ball to Sacre, Dower and Harris and dominate the paint. If the frontcout can be active and potentially start generating some early fouls on St. John's, it would give Gonzaga an excellent opportunity to advance.
While getting the ball in the paint will be the focus offensively, this game will come down to how well the Gonzaga guards handle the pressure defense from St. John's. While the combination of Stockton and Goodson has worked well over the past month, I'm not sure which of these guys will be able to thrive against this defense. With Stockton, I immediately look at his performances against Kansas St. and Memphis and cringe, because the Red Storm will bring that type of athleticism and physicality on the defensive end. Even though Meech Goodson has the natural strength and quickness to handle the defensive looks Gonzaga will see, I question whether his decision-making and ball control will be at a high enough level to be successful over 40 minutes. Hopefully a combination of Gray, Carter and the two point guards will provide enough balance and composure to help the Zags combat an excellent defensive team.
It's impossible to deny the quality and depth of the Big East. One of the things that jumps out when you look at what St. John's did this season is the face that they knocked off nearly all of the top contenders in the conference. This is a confident team that will not be intimidated by the atmosphere or a pro-Gonzaga crowd. However, this game is a strong matchup for Gonzaga, as St. John's isn't a strong shooting team and still must figure out how to replace the production of D.J. Kennedy. This is the type of the game that will go back-and-forth throughout and will likely come down to the final minutes. If the Zags can utilize the size advantage and control the tempo, which with a week to prepare I think they will do, then Gonzaga will advance with the 74-67 win.