Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Seton Hall Pirates: NCAA Tournament First Round Preview and Prediction

Kevin Willard and the Pirates look to keep their postseason winning streak intact against the Bulldogs

Can Seton Hall keep things rolling? Kevin Willard's Pirates earned their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2006 after claiming their first Big East Tournament title since ‘93. Armed with a favorable seed, Seton Hall looks to win its first NCAA Tournament game since beating Arizona 80-76 in 2004.

 

Getting past the first round won't be an easy task. Gonzaga is making its 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and has many key players from last year's squad that reached the Elite Eight. The Bulldogs boast an 8-6 record as a double digit seed — including a 4-2 record in the first round.

 

No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs (26-7) vs. No. 6 Seton Hall Pirates (25-8)

 

When: 9:57 p.m. ET (Thursday)

Where: Pepsi Center (Denver)

TV: truTV

Line: Gonzaga -2

 

Keys for Gonzaga

 

Exploit frontcourt advantages

Figuring out how to defend Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis can be a headache. The duo is tough inside and outside. Sabonis thrives on dominating around the basket and averages 17.4 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Wiltjer is a deadly perimeter threat. He averages 20.7 points per game and shoots 42 percent from 3-point range.

 

McClellan must continue hot streak

It's been an up and down season for Eric McClellan, but the Vanderbilt transfer seems to have finally found a groove. McClellan was a beast for Gonzaga during the WCC Tournament. The senior guard averaged 20.3 points and was perfect from the free throw line (18-of-18) in wins over Portland, BYU and St. Mary's.

 

Keys for Seton Hall

 

Whitehead channels Big East Tournament performance
Isaiah Whitehead is an electric guard who has definite potential to be a star in the NBA. He is good at creating scoring chances for himself and teammates. Whitehead has scored at least 20 points in seven straight games and averaged 23.3 points per game during the Big East Tournament. It's one reason why Seton Hall has won six straight contests.

 

Keep Gonzaga off the line

The last thing Seton Hall wants to do is get into a free throw shooting contest with the Zags. Gonzaga ranks 11th nationally in free throw percentage (.760) and averages 20.5 free throw attempts per game. The Bulldogs will try to attack the basket, so it's even more critical for the Pirates to play smart defense and avoid early foul trouble.

 

Final Analysis

 

Gonzaga is a trendy upset pick for a good reason. The Bulldogs possess a major skill and talent advantage with forwards Wiltjer and Sabonis and have extensive postseason experience under head coach Mark Few. Seton Hall is a talented team that can beat anybody. But the Pirates also are prone to making tons of turnovers and indulge in poor shot selection. Those habits will be their undoing against the Zags.

 

Prediction: Gonzaga 70, Seton Hall 66

 

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.

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