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Memphis Tigers vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs Prediction: NCAA Tournament Second Round Preview

Memphis Tigers vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs Prediction: NCAA Tournament Second Round Preview

Tigers look to upset top-seeded Bulldogs for a spot in the Sweet 16

Can Gonzaga cool down surging Memphis when the two teams battle in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday?

The top-seeded Bulldogs (27-3) traded blows with a hard-nosed Georgia State squad for 30 minutes before finally pulling away from the 16 seed for a 93-72 first-round victory on Thursday. Gonzaga struggled with turnovers and missed free throws early and actually trailed 54-52 with 13:10 left. Then the Zags buried the Panthers under a 24-1 run. Drew Timme powered Gonzaga to its 13th straight first-round win, scoring 22 of his 32 points after halftime and corralling 13 rebounds. Timme finished with his fifth career 30-point game.

The Tigers (22-10) survived a late rally to knock out No. 8 Boise State 64-53 in the first round on Thursday. Memphis has won 13 of its past 15 games. The Tigers jumped on the Broncos late in the first half and built a 19-point lead at halftime. Boise State weathered the storm and cut the deficit to 56-51 with 1:26 left. Jalen Duren made a critical layup in the final minute, giving Memphis enough breathing room to seal the win. Duren finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

This is the first meeting between the two schools since 2015. Memphis leads the all-time series 6-2.

West Region: No. 9 Memphis Tigers (22-10) vs. No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs (27-3)

Time: Saturday, March 19 at 9:40 p.m. ET
Where: Moda Center (Portland, Ore.)
TV: TBS
Spread: Gonzaga -10.5

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Keys for Memphis

The Tigers overcame 15 turnovers against Boise State by winning the battle on the boards. Memphis finished with a 39-30 advantage in rebounds. Cleaning the glass will be even more critical against Gonzaga. Timme and Chet Holmgren combined for 30 rebounds in the first round for the Zags. They will not make it easy for Memphis, a team that normally excels at rebounding. The Tigers are especially good on the offensive glass, averaging 12.5 offensive rebounds per game in the regular season. Memphis has enough size to counteract Timme and Holmgren in the paint. The Tigers cannot let one or the other get going or the game will get out of hand quickly.

Pressuring Gonzaga on defense can pay dividends. To that end, Memphis can put Gonzaga on the ropes for 40 minutes by forcing the Zags to work deep into the shot clock on each possession. The Tigers like to get out and run, but that plays right into Gonzaga's strengths. The Bulldogs are excellent in transition defense. Memphis also needs to do a better job of taking care of the ball. Boise State turned a blowout into a tight game again largely because the Broncos caused numerous turnovers. If the Tigers get careless with possessions, Gonzaga can build a 20-point lead in the blink of an eye.

Keys for Gonzaga

Starting strong is crucial for the Bulldogs. Gonzaga is talented enough that it can coast by lesser opponents for an entire half before scorching the nets and churning out a comfortable win. The Zags can't get away with dominating for only a few minutes against Memphis. The Tigers have the speed, size, and length to keep up with Gonzaga for 40 minutes. The Zags need to be focused offensively and defensively from the start. Inefficient shots and lazy passes will come back to bite them against a team that has the defensive chops to punish their mistakes.

Gonzaga needs to get shots from the perimeter to drop early. Memphis will focus its energies on limiting Timme and Holmgren around the paint and daring the Bulldogs to beat them from outside. They are certainly up to the challenge. Julian Strawther has shown an ability to take over games when his shot is falling. Strawther averages 12.0 points per game and shoots 39 percent from 3-point range. Andrew Nembhard and Rasir Bolton are both excellent outside shooters as well, with Bolton hitting from long distance 47 percent of the time.

Final Analysis

Gonzaga arguably has the toughest path to the Final Four of any No. 1 seed. Memphis will not make it easy. The Tigers are a Top-25-level team with their size, length, speed, and athleticism. Still, the Bulldogs faced numerous tough opponents in November and December and during WCC play. Few were able to slow down the machine that is their offense. Memphis can defend well, but Gonzaga generates so many possessions with its speedy tempo that the Zags will outlast the Tigers in the end.

Prediction: Gonzaga 85, Memphis 76

Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.