ELITE 8 GAME PREVIEWS
GONZAGA VS XAVIER 6:09PM
Heading into the 2017 NCAA Tournament, everyone wondered what would happen when the Gonzaga Bulldogs faced an opponent that was truly capable of going toe-to-toe with them. Suffice to say that the Bulldogs passed their toughest test of the postseason to date, pulling out a win against West Virginia — nicknamed “Press Virginia” for their relentless style of defense — to advance to the Elite Eight for the second time in three years.
The Bulldogs, who also happen to be one of the best defensive teams in the nation themselves, matched West Virginia’s signature intensity all game long, holding the Mountaineers to a paltry 26.7% field goal percentage during the game. In fact, both teams combined to make only 34 baskets during the game.
West Virginia guard Jevon Carter had 21 points, but nobody else on the team even reached double-digit points. Still, with 1:47 left to play, West Virginia actually held a 58-55 lead over Gonzaga, when Carter hit a go-ahead three point shot.
Many people who were skeptical of Gonzaga’s success this year believed that if the Bulldogs faced any adversity late in a game against a quality opponent, they would fold under the pressure. Yet, they were not only able to score the next six points en route to a victory, but they held West Virginia without a single point for the remainder of the game.
Przemek Karnowski, Johnathan Williams, and Jordan Mathews all tied for a team-high 13 points for Gonzaga, while junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss had 10 points, seven rebounds, and two assists — one of which ended up being a dime to Mathews, who hit the three point shot that proved to be the game-winner.
But for all the skeptics who believed that Gonzaga would be an early exit from the tournament, the majority of people believed they should’ve advanced to the Elite Eight. In theory, that’s where they were supposed to face their stiffest test of the tournament, especially if the University of Arizona — the #2 seed in the region — was to be their opponent.
Except the Xavier Musketeers, the 11th seed in the West region, had other ideas. The Musketeers entered the tournament having lost seven of their final 10 games of the season, and most people thought that they’d win no more than one game in the tournament (if that, frankly). But not only did Xavier defeat the University of Maryland in the opening round, but they proceeded to beat Florida State (the #3 seed in the region), and then pull off the shocking upset of Arizona, to advance to the Elite Eight. Head coach Chris Mack had previously led the Musketeers to the NCAA Tournament in six of his past seven years, but Xavier had never gotten past the Sweet 16.
Now, when Gonzaga and Xavier face off against each other on Saturday evening, one of those two teams is guaranteed to reach the Final Four for the first time. The Musketeers will undoubtedly be heavy underdogs against the Bulldogs. But, if we’ve learned anything from their performance in the tournament so far, the last thing anyone should do is bet against them.
KANSAS VS OREGON 8:49PM
For the first time since 2011, Bill Self and the University of Kansas Jayhawks have advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
The Jayhawks weren’t the #1 overall seed heading into this year’s tournament, but they’ve certainly looked like the best team in the country since the tournament began. After beating UC Davis and Michigan State by an average margin of victory of 29 points, the Jayhawks steamrolled Purdue University, the Big 10 champions, by a 98 to 66 margin, to advance to the Elite Eight.
Three minutes into the second half of the game, the Boilermakers trailed the Jayhawks by only three points. But from that point onwards, Kansas stepped on the gas pedal, blowing out Purdue by a 47-18 margin for the remainder of the game.
Senior guard Frank Mason III was once again brilliant, tallying 26 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists; it was his sixth straight game with 20 or more point scoring. Freshman stud Josh Jackson chipped in 15 points, 12 rebounds, and four steals as well.
Meanwhile, senior forward Landen Lucas played an instrumental role in Kansas’ win, though his contributions won’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. He spent most of the evening guarding forwards Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas for Purdue, keeping them in check. Swanigan, an All-American candidate, finished with a respectable 18 points and seven rebounds, but he had to work all evening to get those stats.
The Jayhawks became the first team to score at least 90 points each of its first three games, since the University of Connecticut did so in 1995. Hopefully that’s not a harbinger of things to come for the Jayhawks, as that Huskies team saw their run end in the Elite Eight that year.
Kansas will face the University of Oregon, the #3 seed in the region, for the opportunity to advance to the Final Four in Phoenix. Oregon managed to escape the mayhem of the bottom part of Midwest region, which saw teams like Louisville (the #2 seed) and Creighton (the #6 seed) end their tournament run during the opening weekend.
After the University of Michigan — the #7 seed in the region — defeated Louisville, the national spotlight and chatter was squarely on them, almost to the point where the higher-seeded Ducks were an afterthought in the game. Many of the talking heads acted as if Oregon’s advance to the Sweet 16 was almost a fluke, especially after losing senior forward Chris Boucher to a torn ACL
But sophomore guard Tyler Brooks has emerged as the team’s newest go-to weapon, to the point where teammates are jokingly referring to him as “Mr. March.” Dorsey scored 20 points in Oregon’s win over the Wolverines, including the go-ahead layup with 1:08 left in the game. After Michigan failed to convert their last shot, Oregon clinched a spot in the Elite Eight for the second straight year.
Oregon has never advanced past this point in the tournament, whereas Kansas has the chance to reach their first Final Four since 2008, when they won the National Championship. Tip off for the game between Kansas and Oregon is set for 8:49pm (EST) on Saturday.