Men's Basketball 2017 NCAA Tournament West Region Elite 8 Game Breakdown

West Region Elite Eight Game Breakdown
#1 Gonzaga vs. #11 Xavier
This is the exact matchup everyone drew up, right?  Gonzaga has not played their best basketball, but they were expected to be here.  Xavier is playing its best basketball, and has taken up Michigan’s mantle as the feel-good story of the tournament.
Gonzaga did not have it easy against West Virginia.  It was a fairly ugly game on both sides.  As expected, West Virginia’s press really confounded the Zags.  Gonzaga was in foul trouble for a lot of the game, especially in the first half and that forced some mixing and matching from Mark Few just to keep his guys available.  Luckily, he found the right recipe: Four of his starters scored in double-figures.  What should not be overlooked is Gonzaga’s defense.  They buckled down and really stuck it to the Mountaineers in return.  In fact, on the final possession of the game, the Bulldogs perimeter defense stifled any reasonable shot attempt for West Virginia.  The Mountaineers only shot 26% from the field – some of which was simply poor shooting.  But Gonzaga was able to lock down on defense when their offense was sputtering for stretches of the game.  This was close for the entire contest due to each team’s solid defense and no one was able to pull away.  In the end, Jordan Matthews hit a clutch three with under a minute left that was the difference in the game.  The Zags reach the Elite Eight for the second time in three years.
Their opponent may be a bit unexpected.  Xavier was able to pull the massive upset, 73-71, against an extremely talented Arizona team.  The Musketeers were teetering on missing the tournament a week before Selection Sunday.  They have jelled and caught fire at the right moment.  Thursday’s game was a total track meet and these teams went back and forth all night.  In big games, stars are supposed to step up.  Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett did not disappoint.  It was a masterful game for Bluiett and he shot over 50% from the field.  There was a point in the first half where he had gone seven-for-seven.  Xavier as a team seemed to have it that night.  They shot 52% to Arizona’s 43%.  Still Arizona’s athleticism and talent carried them through for much of the game.  Xavier was able to answer every gut punch delivered by Arizona.  They stayed true to their offensive sets and were highly efficient in the half court, especially late in the game.  Sean O’Mara, a key reserve for Xavier in this tournament, hit the go ahead lay-up on a well-executed play with less than 45 seconds remaining.  It was an incredible performance by a heavy underdog.
On paper this regional final looks heavily slanted in Gonzaga’s favor.  They are the more talented team, and now they have been tested.  They will be able to handle a gritty, tough game.  That being said, Xavier is playing arguably the best basketball of anyone in the tournament.  It is impossible to predict what type of performance this team will put forth.  Gonzaga clearly has more talent in the guard position, which is always key this time of year.  Bluiett will likely have to have a similar performance for Xavier to continue this run.  Gonzaga’s size has been a problem for teams all season, and this game would appear to be no different.  The issue for them will be fouls and foul shooting.  They were poor in both in the Sweet Sixteen.  Xavier is an opportunistic team and they will be able to take advantage of a smaller, weaker Gonzaga lineup.  Bench play has been so big for Xavier that it would not be surprising if the reserves played a huge role in this one.  Both teams can play a lot of guys, but Xavier’s production in that area has been as good or better than their opponents to this point (Arizona’s bench outscored them by just one point on Thursday).  That may make the difference for them.  Ultimately, Gonzaga’s skill should rule the day, but underestimate Xavier at your own peril.