by: Rob Williamson
The NCAA March Madness Tournament is well under way as the fourth round, known as the Elite Eight, kicks off tonight at 6 p.m. The stage is set, matchups locked in…but the basketball gods must be laughing.
I. The Match-Up
As of tonight, Jesuit college Gonzaga, who have made eight trips to the Sweet Sixteen and advanced to the Elite Eight on three of those occasions, will have a chance to qualify for the Bulldogs’ first ever Final Four appearance.
They go up against the Xavier Musketeers. A Jesuit program who have made eight trips to the Sweet Sixteen, advanced to the Elite Eight on three of those occasions….who also happen to be playing for their program’s first ever trip to the Final Four.
Two schools, 3200 km apart, with mirrored histories, will meet in San Jose tonight to determine which school earns that first trip to the prestigious Final Four being held in Phoenix next weekend.
We can only hope the game will be as intriguing as the match-up. Gonzaga came into the tournament ranked second in the nation, only behind a Villanova squad who got shocked by Wisconsin in the Round of 32 last Saturday. ‘Zaga is an interesting story. On one hand, they flew through the regular season, amassing an incredible 35-1 record to date. On the other hand, they’re known to play in a ‘weak’ conference, the West Coast Conference, calling the validity of that record into question. But what can’t be ignored about these Bulldogs are the stats that seem to back their wins up. Out of the 351 teams that make up NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball, Gonzaga ranks first in adjusted efficiency, meaning their trips down the floor are the most fruitful in the nation. On the other side of the ball, they’re no laughing matter either, also ranking first in the nation in defensive efficiency and as we’ve been told hundreds of times before, “defense wins championships.”
The Musketeers’ year hasn’t been nearly as fruitful. Xavier’s record heading into the Elite Eight is a respectable 24-13, not horrible, but definitely nothing to write home about. They finished seventh in their conference, came into this tournament unranked and only rank 30th in efficiency, with a measly 67th ranked defense. It’s clear many who watch the sport don’t give Xavier much chance in this one, as a whopping 99% of fan-made brackets have Gonzaga going through, according to Yahoo.
But the 11-seeded Musketeers shouldn’t be ignored. They’ve developed into this year’s “Cinderella” story of sorts. They’re only the fourth 11 seed to ever make the Elite Eight and their road there wasn’t easy by any means. In the first round, upsets are to be expected, so nobody really turned and looked when they knocked off Maryland on the first day of the tournament. But when they knocked off 3 seed Florida State in the second round, and the very strong 2 seed Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen, people started noticing. Xavier will need junior guard Trevon Bluiett, whose coming into this one averaging 18.7 points per game to step up just as he has been through the past two weeks.
It is an intriguing matchup, and one we can only hope will live up to the billing – two teams going neck and neck to make history. Two programs looking for their first ever berth into the Final Four, one is sure to leave in heartbreak. The action will take place tonight in San Jose and you can catch the game on several T.V. networks. Tip-off is at 6 PM.