Last summer it was announced that the Washington Huskies and Gonzaga Bulldogs would renew their rivalry and play each other in 2016-2017 season. Fans of both teams received an extra surprise this morning when it was announced that the Huskies would take on the Bulldogs in the first game of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on November 25th. I for one am grateful that the organizers of the tournament are effectively renewing the rivalry a year early.
A lot has changed for both teams since they last they met in Spokane in 2006 (for those keeping score at home, the Zags won the last match up 97-77). Here is a quick recap of what both teams have done since then, and where the two respective programs stand heading into the November match up:
Looking back, it is safe to say that the early and mid 2000's was a golden age of Washington Basketball. The team only missed the NCAA tournament twice between 2004 and 2011, and advanced to the Sweet 16 three times during that span. Now, Huskies fans are all too familiar with the fact that the program has fallen on rather hard times as of late and have missed out on the tournament for three straight seasons. On top of that they are coming off of an incredibly depressing season that saw the team finish 16-15 after an 11-0 start. Despite the disappointing season, there is good reason for Husky Fans to be optimistic about the future, and that is because of the Freshmen. The Huskies added eight new players this off-season, and the 2015 class is the most talked about and highly touted class of the Romar Era. The coaching staff and the team are looking to re-discover the success of the 2000's and to reignite the Golden age of Washington Basketball.
Not much has changed for the Zags since they last faced the Huskies. They have yet to miss the NCAA Tournament under Head Coach Mark Few, and have cemented themselves as one of the best mid major basketball schools in the country.
The Zags head into next season fresh off of their best season yet under Few, as they went 35-3 last year and made their second Elite 8 appearance in school history. Three of their most prominent players from last season - Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski, and Domantas Sabonis - will be returning this season. This will likely be one of the tougher match ups of the season for the Huskies young big men, and should give us an indication of how they will fare against some of the Pac-12's top big men later in the season.
I won't be surprised if Gonzaga is heavily favored by Las Vegas heading into this game. It is hard to predict how this game will go mainly because the Huskies are likely the biggest question mark in the Pac-12 heading into next season. However, I expect both teams to play extremely hard; there is no love lost between the two programs and that will show on November 25.
It may be disappointing to some that the first game in the renewed rivalry will not be played in state. But if you are looking for a reason to go, here is where the Tournament takes place.