If 11th-seeded Xavier can defeat top-seeded Gonzaga to advance to the Final Four in the NCAA Men’s Division I basketball tournament, the Musketeers will no doubt become a sentimental favorite to win this year’s national championship, throwing March Madness into full fury with the kind of Cinderella story that Gonzaga themselves had when they first came onto the national scene. After narrowly defeating the No. 2 Arizona Wildcats 73-71 on Thursday, Xavier University returns to the Elite Eight for the first time in a decade. Meanwhile, Gonzaga won another close game as they defeated the No. 4 West Virginia Mountaineers 61-58. The stage is now set for Saturday evening, as No. 1 Gonzaga faces No. 11 Xavier.
Heading into this year’s tournament, Xavier didn’t exactly seem poised to make a big run. In their fourth season playing as part of the Big East Conference, they finished the regular season with a record of 19-12. They went just 9-9 against their Big East opponents, earning a No. 7 seed in the Big East Conference tournament. After defeating DePaul in the first round and Butler in the second, they were eliminated in the semifinals by Creighton. Entering the NCAA tournament as a No. 11 seed in their region, they are just one win away from reaching the national semifinals.
As noted by USA Today, Trevon Bluiett was a key player for Xavier on Thursday. He made some clutch plays late in the game at the end of a second half that was mostly quiet for the shooting guard, after scoring 18 of his 25 points in the first half. If they can beat Gonzaga, it will be the first time that Xavier has ever reached the Final Four. This will be just their third appearance in the Elite Eight, having been there previously in 2008 and 2004.
Gonzaga, once considered a Cinderella story themselves, have had an incredible season this year. After starting the regular season 29-0, their only loss so far this year came at home in the final game before the WCC tournament, when BYU defeated Gonzaga 79-71. The Bulldogs won the West Coast Conference championship tournament by defeating Saint Mary’s 74-56 in the finals. They crushed South Dakota State 66-46 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Then they defeated Northwestern 79-73 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Despite being a name more commonly associated with college basketball success in recent years, the Los Angeles Times notes that, like Xavier, this will only be the third time that Gonzaga has made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Two statistics from their game against West Virginia on Thursday night might prove that they are ripe for an upset loss to Xavier on Saturday. Between both Gonzaga and West Virginia, Thursday’s game saw just 34 made field goals and a total of 51 fouls.
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Where to Watch Xavier vs. Gonzaga
Gonzaga vs. Xavier in the Elite Eight takes place Saturday night, March 25. The game is scheduled to begin at 6:09 p.m. EST and will air live on TBS from the SAP Center in San Jose, California. Following that game on TBS, the Oregon Ducks play the Kansas Jayhawks, which is scheduled to begin at 8:49 p.m. EST.
[Featured Image by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]