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Xavier

vs.

Gonzaga

Elite 8 Pick

3/25/17

No one expected Xavier to be in the Elite 8 and it's not like many were confident that Gonzaga would be in this spot, either. But here we are, with one of these teams headed to the Final 4. Still, it's a 1-seed against an 11-seed, so the Bulldogs are decent-sized -8 point favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook for the game in San Jose.

The Musketeers weren't supposed to be in this position after barely making the tournament as an 11-seed. They struggled to close the season and yet, through a dominant zone defense, have won as underdogs in all three of their games. The run is extremely similar to what Syracuse did a year ago, but maybe better given the competition they've faced. Coincidentally, Gonzaga lost to that Syracuse team in the Sweet 16 last year. That said, it was a completely different team, so take that result with a grain of salt as the Bulldogs are filled with a lot of new faces.

Maybe the biggest issue for Gonzaga against a likely 2-3 zone is that they aren't exceptional at shooting. Jordan Mathews leads the team in made threes, but is at just 39.1% while Josh Perkins is the second option with Nigel Williams-Goss inconsistent at best from long range. And the worry for Williams-Goss is that he hasn't had a great game in the tournament yet, just 1-of-8 from deep and 12-of-42 from the field in three games. Considering he leads the team in scoring this season, it's no wonder why Gonzaga has had trouble closing out the last couple games.

Gonzaga has a big size advantage between Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins and will likely use those two a ton. Arizona had a size advantage too, but didn't really use that to its benefit, while Xavier's Sean O'Mara made the big plays when it counted most. The Musketeers likely won't make O'Mara deal with Karnowski exclusively as he gives up about 50 pounds and a couple inches, as most do. But against the zone, the more athletic Collins may be used a little more, especially at the top of the key as he has the ability to shoot over the defense. If Williams-Goss has another bad game, this will likely be yet another struggle for both teams, scoring in the 60s with the winner coming down to the wire.

Gonzaga has an elite defense, but the same was said about Arizona and Xavier did just enough to get a win in that game. Trevon Bluiett continues his run of excellence, already with 75 points in the first three games. The Zags have decent size on the perimeter, but Bluiett comes in at 6-6 and will be the reason Xavier has a chance to win this game. But to keep it close, this game will come down to what the rest of the role players can do for the Musketeers. J.P. Macura has been great in the tournament and does it all for them on both ends of the court. Malcolm Bernard came through for the X last game, scoring 15 points and they'll need a similar showing from him or someone else to steal another upset. Kaiser Gates and Tyrique Jones have had their moments in the tournament, but will have tough matchups.

Possibly the biggest key for Xavier is going to be Quentin Goodin, the replacement at point guard for Edmond Sumner. Goodin has simply been on the court to distribute with 20 assists (and just 17 points) in the three tournament games, but he may be required to score more to win this one. Matched up with Williams-Goss, he's going to have yet another tough matchup, which doesn't help.

Gonzaga is a large favorite, but the Bulldogs will only be able to cover if they figure out Xavier's zone. If not, this game could finish almost the same as the Arizona one did. But if Mark Few learned from his mistakes a season ago, this could be a double-digit victory for the Zags.

Our Pick - Xavier +8.5

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