After the longest possible wait on Selection Sunday, it was finally revealed that the Zags will face St. John's on Thursday night in Denver (Editor's Note: This game will tip at 6:45 PST on CBS). While there were numerous potential spots in the bracket where I would have loved to see Gonzaga placed, this particular game is stunningly enticing. In St. John's, you have a team with a ton of history and a program that is seemingly on the rise under first-year head coach Steve Lavin. This is a team that has numerous signature victories throughout the season, including wins over Duke, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Villanova. It's also a team that has reinvigorated basketball in the NYC area, with Madison Square Garden presenting a true home court advantage for the Red Storm. While this is an overview of what St. John's has achieved this season, here is a more in-depth look at this team.
continue reading after the jump...Dwight Hardy is elite: Gonzaga has faced many elite individual talents, but Dwight Hardy might be the toughest matchup so far this season. Hardy is an outstanding guard, who has the strength and toughness to attack the rim off the dribble. Hardy averages an impressive 18 ppg and has scored in double-figures in 15 consecutive games. He is also at his best on the big stage, as he scored 33 points against UConn and 34 points against Villanova this season. While Hardy has the ability to get to the rim, he isn't an outstanding shooter from the perimeter, so that could bode well for the Zags on the defensive end. With that said, Hardy brings a level of toughness that will make him a difficult and physical matchup for guys like Steven Gray and Meech Goodson.
Steve Lavin mixes defenses: One of the huge advantages of having three days to prepare for a first round opponent is the fact that the coaching staff will have time to gameplan for all the different defensive rotations and looks St. John's will bring to the table. The primary defensive look will be a matchup zone defense. This works great with the talent St. John's has, as this particular team is incredibly athletic and comprised of seniors. Equally important will be the play of the Gonzaga guards, as this defense will trap as soon as the ball crosses halfcourt and will do everything possible to pressure the guards into bad decisions.
D.J. Kennedy is a key loss: In a story that will surely grab lots of attention heading into the game, St. John's lost senior guard D.J. Kennedy to a torn ACL in the Big East Tournament. Although his numbers had dipped a little this season, Kennedy still was averaging 10.4 ppg and 5.6 rpg. He also provided lots of versatility for this team on both ends of the court and it will be tough to replace his production and athleticism. While this is a deep team, with nine guys averaging over 10 minutes per game, it is very difficult to try and predict how certain guys will respond to increases in their role.