This second round matchup in the Midwest Region is sure to have a handful of NBA scouts watching. Even though it was the lower seed, No. 11 Gonzaga was favored to win its first round bout with Big East Tournament champion, No. 6 Seton Hall. The Bulldogs showed why with an easy victory stemming from a huge effort out of Domantas Sabonis (21 points, 16 rebounds). Utah’s own NBA prospect, center Jakob Poeltl, had a similar showing in the Utes’ 80-69 win against No. 14 Fresno State, finishing with 16 points and 18 boards.
No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs (27-7) vs. No. 3 Utah Utes (27-8)
When: 8:40 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Where: Pepsi Center (Denver)
Keys for Gonzaga
Mark Few’s team needed a West Coast Conference Tournament championship to extend Gonzaga’s incredible streak of NCAA Tournament appearances to 17 in a row. The Bulldogs have yet to make it past the Elite Eight, with a 66-52 loss to eventual champion Duke ending their furthest run in school history in 2015. With the dynamic frontcourt of Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer both set to depart after this season, Gonzaga must take advantage of this opportunity. Wiltjer will need to use his range to help space the floor and keep Utah’s defense on its toes to come out on top.
Keys for Utah
The Utes will not be able to rely on Poeltl to do everything. The sophomore big man will have his hands full with his counterpart, Sabonis. Poeltl snagged nine offensive rebounds against Fresno State, something that will probably not happening against Gonzaga. Utah had four players score at least 15 points in its first round win, which is a good sign moving forward. The Utes will need another solid effort from all of their starters to take down another team of Bulldogs.
Arguably the most promising statistic from Gonzaga’s first round upset of Seton Hall was the defense holding the Pirates to 52 points. The Bulldogs have proven all season that they can score in a lot of different ways, but their defense was typically a massive hindrance. If Gonzaga can bring a similar effort against Utah it has a very good chance of pulling off another upset and advancing to a second straight Sweet 16.