The No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs take on the No. 11 Xavier Musketeers today. Despite the seeding differential, Xavier is one of the hottest teams rolling in the NCAA Tournament. Like Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, Xavier grinded out a hard fought win over Arizona to punch their ticket.
Now, two teams who have never been the Final Four are garnering for one spot. One fanbase is going to go home devastated, the other elated. To find out more about Xavier, we spoke with Caleb Childers from Banners on the Parkway.
1) This Xavier squad is the only real underdog left in the NCAA Tournament. How have they gotten here?
Well, we definitely got the underdog status by going 3-7 to end the season. I'm honestly getting tired of the Xavier as cinderella narrative going right now. We were the preseason 9/10 team but had a rocky time late in the season. That being said though, it has been awesome to see us take down the 6, 3, and 2 seeds. Systematically going through the region has been so satisfying. The tournament always has weird things happen, so it's been really fun beating Florida State and Arizona on the way to the Elite 8.
2) Xavier had a real hot and cold stretch there during conference play. What was going wrong during the losing streak?
Two things. First, we lost our point guard, Edmond Sumner, to a season ending knee injury. Losing him was such a big blow, as he was really the leader of this team. Second, we lost Trevon Bluiett for a few games to an ankle injury. Missing those two really threw us into a crazy funk. Most of the losses came against tournament teams (the Big East was stacked this year), but it was still incredible frustrating to lose 6 games in a row. Luckily Trevon got his groove back, and we've really looked good ever since the Butler game in the Big East Tournament.
3) How do you think Xavier will plan to deal with the size of the Gonzaga frontcourt?
I think it's going to be an extremely interesting matchup today. Xavier really relies on great guard play from Macura and Goodin, along with Bluiett, so I think we're going to really try to hit the simple shots away from the rim when possible. We've got Sean O'Mara under the basket and he really held is own against Arizona, so I could see him going toe to toe with your big guys.
4) Who is the guy the Musketeers need to play at the top of the game if Xavier wants to continue the upset train?
Xavier has made it this far with complete team play, but I'm going to go with our star Trevon Bluiett. He scored 18 in the first half on Thursday and that really kept us in before others stepped up. I think if he has a big game then Xavier has a great chance of winning.
5) Final prediction?
Gonzaga has had a great season, but I think Xavier has too much momentum right now. Xavier 75, Gonzaga 72.