(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Southern
(1) Gonzaga Bulldogs
This year, Bulldogs head coach Mark Few brings his most capable team yet to the tournament. The Bulldogs (31-2, 16-0) are in the tournament for the 16th time after thoroughly dominating the West Coast Conference once again. The Bulldogs have no bad losses on their record and feature the extremely versatile and talented Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk on the frontline. The two future pros have dominated this season to the tune of a combined 31 points and 14 rebounds a game. They help give the Bulldogs the size to match up with anyone in the country. As a team, the Bulldogs score 78 a night, which few teams can keep up with. They work very well within the confines of the system and play off of each other exceptionally well. They get extra possessions thanks to often superior rebounding and their ability to create steals. The Bulldogs’ strength of schedule was in the 70s, but their number one ranking in the top 25 poll says all you need to know about how capable they are. Few has put together a lot of really great teams over the years, but this year’s team could viably take him to his first Final Four and even championship game. To beat the Bulldogs you have to have a big night offensively, be able to battle with them on the boards and try to take away the three-point shot.
(16) Southern Jaguars
For the third time in 20 years the Jaguars (23-9, 15-3) are playing on college basketball’s biggest stage. They finished second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s regular season, but avoided the regular season champs Texas Southern in the conference tournament as they beat Alabama A&M and Prairie View A&M there to earn their spot. The Jaguars are known for their defense, which held the opposition to 57 points a game on the year. Percentage wise their defense was ranked in the top five as their opponents only managed to shoot 36 percent from the field and 28 percent from three on average. The Jaguars do have certifiable go-to players on the offensive end in Derick Beltran and Malcolm Miller. They both score over 15 a night and combine for nearly half of the 68 points the Jaguars average. The Jaguars dropped their only game against a RPI top 50 opponent, falling to Iowa State 82-59. The Jaguars’ strength of schedule was ranked last, while their RPI was 180th. The Jaguars will be facing their toughest opponent of the year in the tournament and in turn will have to play their best in order to have a chance of staying alive. To even be competitive they have to take care of the basketball like they did in the regular season, get big outings from Beltron and Miller and be red hot from beyond the arc.
HOOPSWORLD’s pick: Gonzaga. The Jaguars don’t have the weapons to hang with the Bulldogs.