Altitude, altitude, altitude. That is the 5,280-dollar question heading into Thursday night’s NCAA tournament first round game between Seton Hall and Gonzaga.
Located a 25 minute walk southeast of the Pepsi Center, the 13th step of the Colorado state capitol building is literally 5,280 feet — a mile — above sea level.
That being so, the thinner air coupled with Seton Hall’s short rotation and faster playing style than Gonzaga has raised questions from fans, media and perhaps the players alike about how the Pirates will be able to cope come Thursday with the nation’s eyes fixated upon the latest game of the day.
“It just takes one or two practices to get used to,” explained head coach Kevin Willard during a Tuesday evening teleconference. “Early in practice today our guys were feeling it a little bit, but by the end of the practice they got very used to the altitude.”
In what is a no-brainer, Seton Hall took a Monday night flight to Denver in order to give ample time to adjust.
“I’m glad we got out early. I think it does affect you, [but] I think it’s more mental than physical,” diagnosed Willard .”Once your body get used to it — and these kids are so young, they’re in such great shape, I think after a couple hours we started getting accustomed to it.”
While one school of logic says that Seton Hall’s higher tempo and short rotation could be negatively affected by the thin air, there’s also an equal counter-argument: Gonzaga uses even less of their bench (335th in bench minutes) and if they are forced to play at a higher pace than they’re accustomed to, they may be the ones that struggle more.
Ever-handy Google has universally said that drinking higher amounts of water and getting better nights of sleep are the go-to solutions to adjusting and avoiding side effects. I also read that waking up the first time after changing altitudes can be a little unpleasant, which is interesting when considering Ismael Sanogo’s following quote.
“This morning when I got up, sitting there and breathing the air it felt thinner, it was hard for me to breathe,” admitted Seton Hall’s starting power forward. “But once I got to practice, we got up and down a little bit it hit me at first, but after a couple reps of going up and down it was just like a normal practice. It’s more mental than a physical thing.”
I’m sure Sanogo will be just fine after playing 38 minutes in a Big East title game with a stomach bug, puking at halftime along the way.
For guard Khadeen Carrington, he’s also feeling the physical effects of Denver.
“It’s been a little tough, today in practice we were kind of getting tired fast, but our trainers have been doing a good job — we’ve got a couple oxygen pumps,” said Carrington. “Everybody is just fighting through it, there’s no time to let that hold us back now.”
Although there is likely truth to the physical versus mental aspect, anything above 4,900 feet is considered “high altitude”.
Some have wondered if Gonzaga will have a slight edge due to Spokane, Washington being situated 1,800 feet above the Pacific, but Altitude.org seems to indicate a negligible difference.
“I wouldn’t call it a disadvantage. I think we’re going to be used to it by time we play, I’m not trying to make any excuses.”