Gonzaga will take its basketball show to Madison Square Garden in New York next season — perhaps twice.
The Zags will be part of a two-night, four-team "pod" Nov. 14-15 at Spokane Arena in the preseason National Invitation Tournament. The winner advances to the semifinals in New York on Thanksgiving weekend.
On Dec. 21, Gonzaga faces Duke at Madison Square Garden, seeing what one Zags official called a four-year negotiation process come to fruition.
"That's the one I'm most pleased with," said Gonzaga's director of basketball operations, Jerry Krause, who handles scheduling. "We finally got a breakthrough. That's the most time, effort, calls and grooming of relationships of any of the scheduling pieces that I've ever worked on."
The Duke matchup is a one-game arrangement, with no return engagement. MSG provides a guarantee for each school.
Meanwhile, as the preseason NIT assumes a new format, Spokane joins three other sites — Charlotte, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Indianapolis — in hosting pods. Last year, the NCAA took over operations of the NIT, and there are some changes in the system, including games played the second night by the losers of the first games.
Paired opposite Gonzaga and Rice in first-round games are Baylor and Colorado State. Among others in the NIT field are Indiana, North Carolina and Tennessee.
It could thus give Gonzaga two appearances in what was traditionally regarded as the Mecca of college basketball.
Mike Roth, the Gonzaga athletic director, says the prestige of playing Duke, a three-time national champion since 1991, is considerable but not as overwhelming for Gonzaga since it achieved its own national profile.
"The significance for our institution a few years ago would have been much more," Roth said. "Where now I think it's two national powers playing a game. Even five years ago, when people were still wondering how long we were going to retain this [emergence], it would have been, 'Gonzaga gets to play Duke'; whereas in this case, it's 'Gonzaga versus Duke.' "
The game will come a season after Duke's J.J. Redick and Gonzaga's Adam Morrison staged a long-distance duel for national player-of-the-year honors. Redick picked off most of them, while the two shared at least three others.
Morrison began his career with a loss to St. Joseph's in 2003 at Madison Square Garden, and Krause said, "One of my goals was to get Adam there again. I was hoping he'd be able to finish his career there. But it didn't quite work out."
Morrison announced recently he is leaving Gonzaga a year early to enter the NBA draft, while Redick was a senior last season.
When the Duke game became reality, the Zags had already contracted for a game with Texas as part of the inaugural Dec. 2 Basketball Hall of Fame doubleheader in Phoenix.
Between Morrison and graduating center J.P. Batista, the Zags lose an average of 47 points a night. And with Duke and Texas — plus Washington, Memphis, Stanford and Virginia — looming, has Gonzaga assembled an overly ambitious schedule?
"The team is definitely going to be different," Roth said. "But we still want to go out there and give these guys a chance to measure themselves."
"It's been our formula," Krause said. "I think I've put together quite a group of people I work with around the country, that I have good relationships with. You can't just switch horses that quickly. It's a general direction.
"Sometimes your players have to play up to the schedule."
Still unresolved is a Gonzaga opponent for the annual Battle in Seattle at KeyArena. Some speculation has pegged San Diego State as that team, but promoter John Hines said Thursday the Aztecs likely will appear here against Washington State, and another West Coast team will be announced soon as Gonzaga's foe, probably in late December.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com