It's not very often a basketball game against the reigning champ at your level can be overshadowed.|
However, the Augustana College men's basketball team will have a much bigger obstacle to focus on before playing two-time NCAA Div. III champ Washington University in St. Louis on Dec. 12. Coach Grey Giovanine's Vikings will trek to the state of Washington to play Gonzaga University in a regular-season game on Dec. 9. Yes, THAT Gonzaga. Yes, a regular-season game.
"People might question my judgment; this is unprecedented for a Division III school to play a Division I team of this caliber in the regular season,'' said Giovanine.
He's obviously not worrying about padding his record, sending his young Vikings with just one returning starter into the 5-year-old, 6,000-seat McCarthey Athletic Center -- aka, The Kennel -- where the Bulldogs have won 95 percent of their home games under Coach Mark Few.
"Some things are just bigger than that,'' said Giovanine. "It gives the school national exposure, it's great for recruiting, it's a public relations bonanza for the college. There is so much up-side to doing this.''
There is also a nice payout for the game. Giovanine said the school is receiving "a significant five-figure guarantee'' that he said will go a long way toward funding the program's next foreign tour -- an Asian trip in the summer of 2010.
This game also came at the expense of the annual cross-river meeting with St. Ambrose University, which had been scheduled for the same day as the Gonzaga opportunity. Giovanine said that SAU coach Ray Shovlain understood the situation and was willing to put the local rivalry on a one-year hiatus.
Giovanine explained that the game at "The Kennel'' just sort of happened after talk of an exhibition game failed to materialize because of a limited guarantee that could be offered that wouldn't even cover Augie's expenses. Two weeks ago, he said, the scenario changed when it became talk of a regular season game.
"They came up one home game short and couldn't find a Division I team to go in and play them at "The Kennel,''' said Giovanine. "They're able to actually pay us more than what it costs us to come out there. It's a remarkable gesture on their part.''
Giovanine's connections with the Gonzaga basketball program run deep. He said he has known Coach Few for about 26 years and was actually out watching Gonzaga in its run to a 12th straight West Coast Conference championship. Giovanine was also best man in 'Zag assistant coach Ray Giacoletti's wedding.
While the timing wasn't great considering the SAU game, a game of this magnitude also may not be what a young Viking squad really needs. Augie graduated six seniors from an 18-8 club and returns just one starter -- senior guard Matt Pelton -- and five other lettermen.
"It's not ideal,'' said Giovanine. "You'd much rather go in there with a veteran team. It's such an incredible environment to have to play in. It will be baptism by fire for some of these guys playing back-to-back games against a Division I team perennially in the Top 20 and our defending national champion.''
Augie men's 2009-10 basketball schedule November: 16 Simpson, 7:30 p.m.; 18 Beloit, 7:30 p.m.; 24 MacMurray, 7:30 p.m.; 28 at Anderson (Ind.), 7 p.m.; 30 at Knox, 7:30 p.m. December: 9 at Gonzaga (Spokane, Wash.), TBA; 12 at Washington Univ. (St. Louis), 7:30 p.m.; 16 Chicago, 7:30 p.m.; 20 Monmouth, 3 p.m.; 22 at UW-Whitewater, TBA. January: 2 at Buena Vista, 4 p.m.; 6 *North Park, 7:30 p.m.; 9 at *Elmhurst, 7:30 p.m.; 13 at *Wheaton, 7:30 p.m.; 16 *Carthage, 7:30 p.m.; 20 at *Millikin, 7:30 p.m.; 23 at *North Central, 7:30 p.m.; 27 at *Illinois Wesleyan, 7:30 p.m.; 30 *Elmhurst, 7:30 p.m. February: 3 at *North Park, 7:30 p.m.; 6 at *Carthage, 7:30 p.m.; 10 *Wheaton, 7:30 p.m.; 13 *Millikin, 7:30 p.m.; 17 *Illinois Wesleyan, 7:30 p.m.; 20 *North Central, 7:30 p.m. 26 & 27 CCIW Tournament, TBA.
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