It seems like it was a long time ago that the Gonzaga Bulldogs dominated the Old Spice Classic field, including a clinical victory over the Tennessee Volunteers in the championship game. At the time, both schools were ranked in the top 15, and seemed like legitimate challengers for the Final 4. However, it seems that both teams might have peaked in the month of November, and are on the verge of becoming irrelevant heading into conference play. This game is vital for both teams as each needs to regain the confidence and swagger that was displayed in the terrific Old Spice Classic final.
continue reading after the jump for more on the Zags-Vols matchup...
After all the baffling and disheartening losses that Gonzaga has gone through the past three weeks, it's time to go back to basics.
Several players said coaches are simplifying things, but Few preferred to call it a time “where we’re identifying roles better.
“We’ve had a tendency now and I don’t think it’s selfish, that it’s, ‘I have to make something happen to help the team.’ We’re better off when we’re getting each other shots, moving the ball and doing something to get somebody else a shot instead of taking it on ourselves.”
I love that the coaching staff is adapting to this team. I have often been critical of the fact that Coach Few doesn't adapt well to the personnel on a year-to-year basis. This team was at its most successful when it was running the flex offense at its most basic level. With so many scoring options and a solid distributing PG, this team needs to have more freedom on the offensive end then previous teams. With the great scoring options that this team presents, I believe that it will be more successful with a greater freedom and loose attitude on the offensive end. The WSU game is the best example of how good this offense can be when the team is playing loose and confident. It was beautiful to watch the ball swing from side-to-side and from the post to the perimeter in the second half of the game. There is no reason that the Zags can't have this type of offensive performance in every game they play.
Heading into this game, Gonzaga is not the only team that is struggling. Tennessee is yet to find the toughness and swagger that is the staple of a Bruce Pearl team.
Head coach Bruce Pearl is no casual observer - and he has the same question.
Pearl was asked at his Monday media luncheon if he was worried about the "toughness" of his 15th-ranked Vols.
"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "I've been worried about my team's toughness all season.
"It's certainly going to be tested and is being tested."
"Our lack of toughness has been exposed so obviously we're trying to step up. We're not denying it and we're not hiding behind it. We're clearly working on it."
I expect to see a vintage performance from the Vols on their home court, especially since they will be trying to get revenge from the defeat earlier in the season. While Tyler Smith has been excellent, the Vols have yet to find another consistent and reliable scoring weapon. What has made this UT team to frustrating is that there is clearly lots of talent on the offensive end. However, Scotty Hopson and Renaldo Woolridge have struggled as freshman, and Bobby Maze has proven to be much more of a distributing PG as opposed to the scoring threat he was at the JC level.
This game should be a fascinating demonstration of two teams who are looking to regain their confidence. Both these teams have great coaches and are remarkably talented, but both lack the swagger that it takes to be great. A win by either team could prove to be the starting point for a terrific run through March. Behind dominant performances from Jeremy Pargo and Austin Daye, the Zags will emerge with a 84-70 win.