March Madness: Elite 8 Saturday Preview

11 min


#1 Gonzaga (35-1) vs. #11 Xavier (24-13)

  • Tip-off: 11:09pm
  • Opening/Current Line: Gonzaga -8 | -8.5

The top seed in the West, the Gonzaga Bulldogs (35-1 SU and 22-9-2 ATS), have zero Final Four appearances in the history of their program. Only the upset-happy underdog, the #11 Xavier Musketeers (24-13 SU and 18-18 ATS), stand in Gonzaga’s way of advancing to their first-ever Final Four.

Gonzaga survived their biggest test of the tournament in the Sweet 16 by beating a gritty #4 West Virginia squad 61-58.

Xavier’s March Madness magic continued when the #11 seed stunned #2 Arizona 73-71. Xavier trailed by 7 points late in the game but went on a sensational 9-0 run to upset Arizona and advance to the Elite 8.

Xavier’s previous tournament wins included a crushing victory over #3 FSU 91-66 and an 11-point win against #6 Maryland. Only three #11 seeds in the history of the NCAA tournament advanced to the Final Four (LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006, and VCU in 2011) and Xavier is looking to add their name to that list of Cinderella party crashers.

Xavier averaged 80 points per game in their previous three victories, but now face the fifth-best defense in the country. Gonzaga only allowed 61 ppg this season and 59 ppg in March Madness. Gonzaga’s stifling defense limited opponents to 36.5% shooting overall, including an impressive 29% from 3-point range. Gonzaga held West Virginia to 5-23 from long range.

Xavier will live and die by Trevon Bluiett, who’s playing like the MVP of March Madness. Bluiett averaged 18 ppg this season, but he’s been on fire in the tournament averaging 25 ppg and hitting 52% of all his shots (including 11-23 from 3-point land). Bluiett lit up Arizona for 25 points.

J.P. Macura (14 ppg this season) looks like he’s playing in his pajamas, but Blueitt’s backcourt mate scored 14 points and made several key shots down the stretch against Arizona. Macura has been struggling from behind the arc (2-9 in last 3 games), but Xavier needs him to knock down his three-pointers if they want to crack Gonzaga’s air-tight perimeter defense.

The highly-efficient Sean O’Mara missed just 2 shots in 3 games thus far for Xavier. O’Mara only averaged 6 ppg this season, but he hit a big shot in the closing minute to help seal the win for Xavier.

Xavier’s good luck charm appears to be actor/comedian Bill Murray, who has been in attendance at each of their March Madness games thus far. Murray’s son, Luke, is an assistant coach for Xavier.

Gonzaga’s Jordan Mathews stepped up in crunch time against West Virginia and hit a big shot to lock up the victory in the Sweet 16. Gonzaga’s leading scorer Nigel Williams-Goss (16.5 ppg this season) is stuck in a mini-slump shooting only 28.5%. Luckily his teammate, Jordan Mathews (10.7 ppg in regular season and 14.3 ppg in March Madness), stepped up with the big shot to seal the win against West Virginia. Gonzaga’s big men, a pair of 7-foot centers, will pose matchup problems against undersized Xavier.

Gonzaga’s token European recruit, Przemek Karnowski (12.4 ppg and 6 rebounds per game) resembles Hodor from Game of Thrones. Karnowski’s backup, Zach Collins, is a steady contributor off the bench with 10 ppg and 6 rebounds per game.

Some trends… Xavier is 7-0 ATS in their last 7 games. Xavier is 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games as an underdog. Gonzaga is 0-3-1 ATS in their previous 4 March Madness games. The Under is 6-2 for the last 8 Gonzaga games. The Under hit in 5 out of the last 7 games for Xavier. ranked Gonzaga #1 and Xavier #30.

#1 Kansas (31-4) vs. #3 Oregon (32-5)

  • Tip-off: 12:49am Sunday Morning
  • Opening/Current Line: Kansas -7 | -6.5

The Midwest regional finals will be hosted in Kansas City, less than 40 miles away from the University of Kansas. It’s essentially a home game for the #1 Kansas Jayhawks (31-4 SU and 14-18-1 ATS) against the #3 Oregon Ducks (32-5 SU and 20-15-1 ATS).

The Oregon Ducks returned to the Elite 8 for the second year in a row. Oregon lost to Oklahoma last year, but have a daunting opponent ahead of them. In the first round, Oregon cruised to an easy win against #14 Iona.

Oregon survived a scare against a red-hot #11 Rhode Island in the second round. Oregon faced #7 Michigan, another team in the middle of a torrid winning streak, but edged them out 69-68 in a thriller to advance to the Elite 8.

Top-seeded Kansas smoked #16 UC-Davis by 38 in the opening round, then crushed #9 Michigan State by 20 in the second round.

In the Sweet 16, Kansas stomped #4 Purdue by 32 points. Kansas is averaging 96 points per game in the tournament with an average margin of victory of 30 points.

Kansas’ four-guard-centric offense looked unstoppable in the blowout against Purdue. Devonte Graham and Frank Mason both scored 26 points. Mason shot 9-11 from the field with 7 assists and 7 rebounds. Big guard Josh Jackson added 15 points and 12 rebounds as he continued to cause matchup problems for opposing players.

Kansas has not faced any serious competition thus far. Kansas’ biggest weakness? Free throw shooting. Kansas hit only 67.6% of their FTs this season.

Oregon has enough offense (averaging 78.7 ppg this season) to keep pace with Kansas’ high-octane arsenal, and they might play strong enough defense to keep the game close.

Oregon’s underrated defense allowed only 65.9 ppg this season, while their swarming perimeter defense allowed opponents to hit just 31.4% of 3-point attempts.

Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey came off the bench to score 20 against Michigan, while Jordan Bell contributed 16 points and 13 rebounds in their one-point victory. Dillon Brooks had an off shooting night, but the Ducks hope their leading scorer (16.3 ppg and 41% 3-point shooting) can provide a prime-time performance against Kansas.

Oregon fans were worried how their team would fare without starting center Chris Boucher, who blew out his knee in the Pac-12 championship game. Without Boucher, Oregon’s head coach Dana Altman opted for a smaller squad. Luckily for Oregon, they won’t be outsized because Kansas also plays a smaller starting five than the average team. Plus, Tyler Dorsey (14.1 ppg) stepped up his game with six consecutive games scoring at least 20 points.

Dorsey has been Oregon’s most reliable sharpshooter in March Madness, hitting 11-16 from 3-point range.

Some trends… Oregon and Kansas have both won 11 out of their last 12 games. Oregon is 5-1 ATS in their last 6 March Madness games as an underdog. Oregon is 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games as an underdog playing on a neutral court. Kansas won 6 out of their last 7 March Madness games. Kansas is 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games as a favorite. The Over is 5-0 in the last 5 games for Kansas. The Over hit in 8 out of the last 10 games for Oregon. ranked Kansas #3 and Oregon #15.