The stage is set for the West Regional Final in San Jose. Xavier, the last team announced on Selection Sunday, is taking on Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed in the region, for a spot in the Final Four.
This is the fifth time both teams have faced each other. Gonzaga leads the series 3-1. Xavier won the first matchup in 1960, while the Bulldogs have taken the last three meetings in 2006, 2010, and 2011.
The winner takes on the East Regional champion in Glendale, Arizona. Regardless of the victor, it would be that program’s first ever Final Four.
Time & Place: 6:09 p.m. ET, SAP Center, San Jose, CA
TV: TBS (Brian Anderson, Chris Webber, and Lewis Johnson)
National Radio: Westwood One (Kevin Kugler and Jim Jackson)
Xavier Radio: 700 WLW-AM (Joe Sunderman and Byron Larkin)
Live Streaming: March Madness Live
This matchup opened with Gonzaga as a 9-point favorite. The over/under opened at 110. Xavier is 18-18 against the spread. Gonzaga is 23-10-2 against the spread.
How Did They Get Here?
After finishing the regular season on a six game losing streak, the Musketeers have reeled off six wins in the last seven games.
Xavier was able to get through their opening round pod in Orlando with relative ease. They took down No. 6 Maryland 76-65 in the Round of 64. They then throttled No. 3 Florida State 91-66 in the Round of 32. It should be noted the Seminoles are one of the tallest teams in the land, very athletic, and held a pseudo-home advantage due to the arena’s proximity to Tallahassee.
The Sweet Sixteen matchup against No. 2 Arizona was tougher. The game came down to the wire, but Xavier was able to prevail 73-71. Sean O’Mara scored the go-ahead layup off of a lob entry pass from Trevon Bluiett with 44 seconds left in regulation.
The No.1 team in the West Region and according to Ken Pomeroy has won every game they’ve played this year except for their season finale against BYU. They plowed through the three games of their conference tournament and their Round of 64 matchup against South Dakota State by an average victory margin of 19.8 points per game.
Gonzaga then ended Northwestern’s first-ever tournament run 79-73 in Salt Lake City in the Round of 32. The Bulldogs then defeated West Virginia 61-58 in the Sweet Sixteen. Jordan Mathews knocked down the go-ahead three-pointer to make it 60-58 with 50 seconds left in regulation. Silas Melson tacked on a free throw for the final score.
Path to Victory
Trevon Bluiett has been big for Xavier in this tournament. He comes into this matchup averaging 25.0 points per game on 52.2 percent shooting in the tourney. Bluiett will certainly be the first scoring option for Xavier.
However, if Gonzaga gets to Bluiett early, the rest of the team will have to pitch in. Sean O’Mara had a big game (18 points, 7 rebounds) against Maryland, as well as the go-ahead bucket against Arizona.
Also, the Musketeers have shot well in this tournament. They’ve gone 52.9 percent from the field and 45.6 percent from three. That shooting will be tested against Gonzaga’s staunch defense.
Gonzaga brings a potent 7-man rotation into this game, with any player capable of getting hot. Jordan Mathews has been the most consistent scorer, averaging a team-high 14.3 points per game through three games.
Mathews has had to lead the charge due to the inconsistency of the Bulldogs’ top two players. Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss scored 20 points against Northwestern, but has gone a combined 6-23 from the field in the other two games.
Big man Przemek Karnowski is an imposing presence in the middle at 7-1 and 300 pounds. However, he is averaging 10.7 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in this tournament. That’s 1.7 points and 1.9 rebounds under his full season average.
Gonzaga has performed well despite the inconsistencies. However, they will need big nights from Mathews, Williams-Goss, and Karnowski if they want to send a statement to the Musketeers.