West Region Sweet Sixteen Game Breakdowns
Both Gonzaga and West Virginia had to scrap their way to victories, but ultimately they were each able to outlast their opponents. West Virginia battled Notre Dame in the first game of the day on Saturday. Their lauded defense did exactly what it intended to do – discombobulated the Irish. Notre Dame averaged less than 10 turnovers per game during the regular season, but had 14 in this game. Bonzie Colson, who was excellent, also got into foul trouble which changed a few things for the Irish in the second half. More impressively, West Virginia scored in bunches. They could not seem to miss from the outside, especially in the second half. The Mountaineers shot 57% from beyond the arc for the game. Every time Notre Dame made a big shot it seemed like Jevon Carter was able to answer for West Virginia. Mixing their stellar defense with efficient offense makes West Virginia extremely challenging to beat.
Gonzaga may have a tough time in this matchup for that reason. The Zags won their second round game because they were able to build a 22 point lead against a Northwestern team trying to build tournament experience. The Wildcats deserve all the credit in the world for making a late push to make the game interesting. There was a controversial call with about five minutes remaining that seemed to swing momentum back toward Gonzaga. In any event, Gonzaga’s high flying first half was enough for them to advance. Przemek Karnowski actually did not play much in Round 2 as Mark Few decided to go with some younger, quicker legs in Zach Collins. Collins did not disappoint. He had 14 points and four blocks. Few can adjust his lineup depending on the opponent, which is a great advantage going forward. Gonzaga’s defense is going to have to be a lot better against the Mountaineers. They allowed 53 points in the second half to Northwestern. That is not going to cut it deep in the tournament. Additionally, their three-point shooting has to get better if they want to get past the Sweet Sixteen. They only hit four of their sixteen shots (25%). Gonzaga has a lot of guys they can play and have a lot of scoring talent, but this West Virginia team has played their most balanced basketball of the season at the right time. This will be a scrappy affair. It may come down to a statistic as simple as rebounding – which team can provide their side with more opportunities.
In one of the biggest shockers of the tournament, Xavier has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. After all of their trials and tribulations this season – and not playing very well late in the regular season – not many saw Xavier getting this far. Especially in the fashion they did. They outshot Maryland in the first round and completely decimated a good Florida State team in the second round. Xavier’s sets on offense provided them with plenty of opportunities for open shots against the Seminoles, and they took advantage of it. They shot 55% overall and 64% from three-point range. It also helps that they held Florida State to 19% shooting from three. This team is playing its best basketball at the right time.
That’s good because they play an Arizona team who has now found a way to scratch and claw their way to a victory against St. Mary’s. The Gaels had a 10 point lead early in the game and really did a great job executing their offense. Turnovers and foul trouble really caused problems for St. Mary’s late, and Arizona was able to rely on their scoring talent to carry them to victory. It was a great effort by an extreme underdog. Now Arizona goes against arguably the hottest team in the tournament in Xavier. Overall, Arizona has more talent up and down the roster (and more size). Xavier will need to continue to play their game and keep draining big shots from three. The Musketeers bench has been a revelation this postseason. Their contributions will continue to be vital. The issue for Xavier is that Arizona is adaptable and can play multiple styles. They were racing up and down the court against North Dakota, and they were forced to slow down and play defensive against St. Mary’s. The Wildcats can win playing Xavier’s game. If Xavier can pull this off, they become the story of the tournament moving forward.