As the Xavier Musketeers and Gonzaga Bulldogs get set to do battle in Saturday night’s Elite Eight, we decided to reach out to Slipper Still Fits, SB Nation’s Gonzaga blog, to try and get more of a read on the Bulldogs.
Big East Coast Bias: Gonzaga certainly had their share of issues against West Virginia in the Sweet 16. What caused the Bulldogs' struggles?
Slipper Still Fits: That West Virginia is absolutely hell to deal with, but the extra issue has been the Zags shooting. This is an offense that has been very good all year, and not just because of "inflated" totals against garbage WCC teams. The Zags took down Florida, Iowa State, and Arizona, all with solid offensive showings. But the players who have been consistent all season haven't been in the tournament.
That said, the Zags have relied on the defense like absolute champs, and that was showcased strongly against West Virginia. If the defense is playing as well as it has been through the tournament, the Zags are one of the toughest outs.
BECB: There's been no shortage of coverage on Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins being tall and also very good. After seeing Xavier get thrashed on the offensive glass against Arizona, do you picture the Zags having similar success?
SSF: Honestly, not really. Zach Collins is a pretty good offensive rebounder, but despite the height, the Zags haven't been the best offensive rebounding team all season. In fact, Xavier probably won't get thrashed on the offensive glass, because Gonzaga's defense has struggled a bit in that category. Don't forget, West Virginia got 20 freaking offensive rebounds. The Zags have clamped down a bit in this area, but I bet the totals will be a bit more even for both teams.
BECB: Trevon Bluiett has been a volume scorer throughout the Tournament, scoring 20+ in each game so far. Can Gonzaga slow him down?
SSF: The Zags have a multitude of guards they can throw at him, and you will probably see a bit of each on Bluiett. Silas Melson, Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews, and Josh Perkins all have the size to deal with Bluiett. If there is a mismatch, presumably with either Zach Collins or Johnathan Williams, both are quick and long enough defenders to make Bluiett struggle. There is a good chance he scores 20+ points in this game, but he will have to work harder than he has all season for those shots.
BECB: Aside from Collins and Karnowski, who is a player on the Bulldogs that could be a difference maker in this game?
SSF: Nigel Williams-Goss has had a quiet tournament, but he is the best player on the floor, almost for both teams. If NWG is hitting his shots, Xavier is going to have a real struggle on their hands. NWG is shooting just 11-of-39 in the NCAA Tournament, much below his normal mark. A lot of his shots haven't been bad shots either--the ball just isn't falling in. Once that starts to happen, it is just another problem Xavier has to deal with.
BECB: Mark Few and Chris Mack are two of the best coaches to never make the Final Four. Which one breaks the drought this year?
SSF: I think this is finally the year Mark Few breaks the curse. The Zags have been one of the best teams in the nation all year. Xavier is definitely a good team (they weren't ranked so highly in the preseason for no reason), but Gonzaga's defense is legitimately one of the best (if not THE best) in the nation. Xavier's been rolling on big shots, but those shots aren't going to come nearly as easy against Gonzaga. Unfortunately, I wish both teams could advance to share the joy, but this is the year Gonzaga gets rid of that nasty shadow.