When the series against Xavier was first announced, I thought it was one of the smartest moves the Gonzaga program has made since scheduling Memphis. While fans salivate at the thought of playing teams like Duke and North Carolina, the reality is that programs like Memphis and Xavier not only test Gonzaga at an elite level, but also are more likely to agree to a true home-and-home series when the contracts are signed. If I were in control of scheduling, my focus would be on filling the schedule with teams like Xavier, Memphis, UNLV and San Diego St., as these are programs that have the talent to win many of the BCS conferences, but due to conference affiliation, won't make some of the ridiculous scheduling demands we have been forced to deal with the past five years.
This game feels like it carries some extra weight, and that's because it could prove to be a decisive result come NCAA Tournament time. After picking up the huge win against Baylor, this team has only a limited number of opportunities to build its resume for the NCAA Tournament. It's games against Xavier, Oklahoma State and Memphis that could go a long way to impressing the selection committee and give Gonzaga the best chance to play deep into March. This is a highly winnable game that will look good on the resume, so it's vital that the Zags take advantage of this game in the MAC and continue to build the momentum heading into WCC play.This Xavier team is not quite at the level as the team that made the Sweet 16 last season. That team was probably one of the best in the country, and had Kansas State on the ropes thanks to virtuoso performances from Jordan Crawford and former Gonzaga recruit Terrell Holloway (one of the bigger "misses" in recent Gonzaga history based on how he has developed). With the team still searching to find a second scorer with Crawford now in the NBA, Holloway has taken on a huge burden on the offensive end, averaging a team-high 21.3 points per game. If Meech and Marquise thought trying to slow down LaceDarius Dunn, they better be really prepared if they are going to limit the success of Holloway.
Xavier isn't a very deep team, with only six guys playing 10+ minutes per game. Therefore, I would expect to see Gonzaga look to push the tempo and try to wear down the Musketeers, who will certainly be tired after coming out to the West Coast. Mark Few and the rest of the coaching staff, who I have criticized this season for their inability to adjust to this specific team, did a tremendous job against Baylor mixing up defenses (did I see some of the man-to-man and 3/4 court pressure that was suggested on this blog?) and keeping the Bears guessing throughout the game. If they can continue to mix up defenses against Xavier and take Holloway out of his comfort zone, this is a very winnable game for the Zags. I'm nervous to even do this, but based on what I saw against Baylor, I see the Zags picking up the 69-60 win.