Indiana Hoosiers (20-10) vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs (23-10)
When: Thursday, 9:40 p.m.
1. Larry Bird and What Might Have Been. The 1976 Indiana Hoosiers—the last undefeated team in men's college basketball history—are generally considered to be the second-best team of all time behind 1968 UCLA. But remember that West Baden/French Lick native Larry Bird was successfully recruited by Bob Knight, had committed to Indiana, and in fact showed up for preseason practice in the autumn of 1974. After only a few weeks, Bird fled Bloomington for home, too intimidated by the "big city" to hang around for the start of the season. To quote the ghost of James Naismith, "The '76 Hoosiers were but one hilarious mustache away from being the greatest North American sports team ever. And I don't mean mine."
2. 550 Degrees Kelvin. Yes, first-year Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson famously made too many (oh, around 550) ill-timed phone calls to recruits while at Oklahoma. But as soon as you're finished feigning outrage ... let's move on to the Sampson family's role in the Battle of Hayes Pond. Sampson is a Lumbee Indian and his father, Ned Sampson, helped drive the Ku Klux Klan out of their North Carolina Lumbee community in 1958. Local Klan Wizard James "Catfish" Cole, who given his moniker had ironically targeted the Lumbee tribe as "mongrels," not only knew very little about the motion offense, but was also was a complete asshat. Showing a little more versatility and lot more dignity, Kelvin won the 2002 NAMA Jim Thorpe Award in addition to his 1992 Pac-10 and 1995 National and Big 12 Coach of the Year Awards.
3. Speaking of Whitey. There may be some debate over whether former Hoosier coach and two-time NCAA champion Branch McCracken, after whom the team's court has long been named, is the most elegantly named man who has ever lived. Reasonable people can disagree agreeably. But what's a little more assured is that Indiana's interior offense has to go through junior D.J. White. White (no relation to D.J. Jazzy Jeff) is only averaging 13.7 points and 6.8 rebounds on the season, but with IU's guard-heavy attack, he is often the focal point in the paint. If the Tuscaloosa native isn't effective in the tournament, expect the entire team to follow suit. — T. Apple
1. Almost Howland. Twenty five years before his actions forced the residents of Spokane to explain why open sobbing by the leading scorer in college basketball is a perfectly normal reaction to a semi-realistic opportunity to win a NCAA tournament game, UCLA coach Ben Howland actually received his first coaching opportunity from Gonzaga. In 1981, following the end of his storied playing career in Uruguay, Howland was recruited to Gonzaga by then-coach Jay Hillock (now director of pro personnel for the Chicago Bulls) to act as a graduate assistant coach, with one of his duties being to defend John Stockton at practice.
2. Stockton Comes Alive! Speaking of Stockton, unless the 2009 Hall of Fame voting is placed solely in the capable hands of Isiah Thomas (during the 1987-88 season, Stockton broke Thomas' single season assist record, something Isiah Thomas will not forget, not ever), The Pasty Gangster stands to become the first Gonzaga basketball player inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. However, two previous Gonzaga graduates, Ray Flaherty and Tony Canadeo, if they were still alive, would not understand all the hoopla. Both men were members of the Gonzaga football team and mid-70's inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What? You know not of Gonzaga's unremarkable football accomplishments just because the program folded 65 years ago? Get on the trolley. The current school mascot, the Bulldogs, is actually derived from one writer's reference to the football team's "bulldog-like tenacity." Canadeo, who was inducted into the Hall in 1974, had his number (No. 3) retired by the Packers in 1952 and still ranks fourth on the team's all-time rushing list. Flaherty, inducted in 1976, coached the Redskins to two world titles and is credited with giving the NFL the modern version of the screen pass.
3. Bing Me, Baby. If you're like me and have done away with the antiquated notion of graduation being a prerequisite to qualify as notable university alumni, then Bing Crosby certainly tops the list at Gonzaga. Das Binger is known for "White Christmas," his love of freshly squeezed orange juice and the alleged good-natured beatings administered to close family [buh-buh-buh-booo]. He was also quite kind to his educational institution, despite his failure to graduate. A generous Gonzaga benefactor, Crosby was instrumental in the construction of the Crosby Library in 1957, which has since become the Crosby Student Center. Approximately 200 items from the Crosby Collection, including his Oscar for "Going My Way," gold and platinum records, audio recordings and original manuscripts, are currently on display in the Crosbyana Room. All of the material serves as a reminder to students that even though the Binger left us for the great orange grove in the sky, at Gonzaga, the juice is always orange and the glasses are always tall and cool. No doubt about it. — Nate Odle