It's hard to imagine Mark Few putting together a more difficult schedule then the ones he has come up with the last few years but if early indications mean anything, this season could be just as hard, if not harder. While there are still a lot of question marks revolving around next season's schedule, it is never too early to begin prognosticating and lining up Gonzaga's future opponents. The schedule next season will kick off with a bang and there is a good chance that Mark Few could be lining up his team to square off against some of the top teams in the Big East, ACC, and Big Ten. Here is a more in-depth look at what we know and what is still circulating in the rumor mill.
What We Know...
November 23-25 will see Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational Preseason Tournament put on by EA Sports. The tournament will feature the Arizona, Chaminade (host), Cincinnati, Colorado, Maryland, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, as well as Gonzaga. While the tournament may not have all the star appeal that the Old Spice Classic did this past year, the level of competition should be stellar. Arizona is pulling in top recruits every other day it seems like and will be young and exciting. Maryland will hopefully still have Greivis Vasquez next year and will be a solid team. Wisconsin could challenge for the Big Ten and Vanderbilt should be much improved as they are full of young talent. It'd be a major confidence booster for the Zags if they could take the title home and it should be a great way to start out the difficult nonconference slate.
continue reading after the jump for more on the schedule...
Gonzaga will be traveling to Chicago to take on the Illinois Fighting Illinii at some point next season. From our best guess, I'd bet this game would take place earlier in the nonconference than later as their are a number of other games later that will require plenty of traveling. The Illinios game will be played in the United Center, an arena that often finds the Illini taking on some of the best teams in the West. Bruce Weber is a notoriously hard scheduler as well and has no issue with taking on some of the top teams in the West. Much like Wisconsin, Illinois is going to return most of their core which includes a great high low combo in sophomores Demetri McCamey and Mike Davis who led the way for the young Illini last year. Teams like Illinois and Wisconsin will probably make the Big Ten arguably the most difficult conference in college basketball next season. This series is looking to be a four year series which should take place in Chicago, then the Spokane Arena before visiting each school's home gym.
Their will also be the usual games that typically make up the mid-portion of the nonconference schedule. Typically, Mark Few likes to begin his nonconference with a bang and end it on a high note as well so look for teams like Washington State, Idaho, North Dakota State, and Air Force to make up the bulk of that part of the schedule. All four games should be taking place in the McCarthey Athletic Center. The game with North Dakota State is the one that really stands out in this bunch as the Bison were a surprise tournament team that had an outstanding year a season ago and should be poised to give Gonzaga a good game. Air Force had an abysmal season last year and have really struggled since Jeff Bzdelik's departure. We love seeing the Zags match up with teams from the Mountain West but you have to wonder why it happens to be Air Force. Washington State is always fun to play and it won't be as horrible of a game to watch because Washington State will finally be attempting to play offense under new head coach Ken Bone who every Cougar fan seems to be falling in love with. We'll see how long his stay in Pullman lasts if he gets that team playing well. Oh yeah, and Gonzaga for some reason will play Cal State-Bakersfield to end the season.
We believe that the Oklahoma return game has been confirmed for some time in late December. This will be the return game from two seasons ago when Gonzaga traveled to Oklahoma to play the Sooners. The game will likely take place in the Spokane Arena probably as part of the McDonalds Charity Classic. The Sooners will bring in a great recruiting class featuring Keith "Tiny" Gallon and they return last year's freshman phenom Willie Warren who should be poised for a breakout year now that Blake Griffin has decided to go into the NBA Draft. The Sooners will have a battle in the Big 12 as Texas will also be bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the nation led by former Bellarmine (WA.) star Avery Bradley.
Still a Rumor at this Point...
If you are a Gonzaga fan, the four logos above have got to make you excited but also very nervous at the same time. Reports have come out regarding Gonzaga being in talks with West Virginia, Duke, Michigan State, and Memphis about scheduling a series that would kick off this season. More than likely, the Duke situation (as reported by Andy Katz) would probably only be a one-game deal in Madison Square Garden similar to the game a few years ago. The Zags have been in a series with Memphis that concluded last year and apparently they are in talks to renew the series. As a selfish Gonzaga fan, I'm hoping that the series isn't renewed. I love playing Memphis but I think after four straight losses...it's time to move on. This leads us to the two games I want to see and that is West Virginia and Michigan State. West Virginia has had the longest rumor trail attached to it as a Mountaineer-Zag match up was rumored to be part of ESPN's college basketball kick off special. As far as we know, the talks are still ongoing. The most recent rumor includes the Michigan State Spartans who are also talking to Mark Few and Gonzaga.
Obviously, I don't see how all four games would be possible as they all would probably be road games this season for the Zags. I'd be voting to see Gonzaga play Michigan State and West Virginia as I think we could negotiate our way into having at least one of them play at the McCarthey Athletic Center for a return game and if you follow Gonzaga basketball, a high profile home game is quite rare.