The Gonzaga Bulldogs won’t have to travel very far to play in their 20th consecutive NCAA Tournament. The Spartans of UNC Greenbsoro, on the other hand, will have to make a cross-country trek and play in front of a very pro-Gonzaga crowd if they hope to advance in their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001.
UNC Greensboro finished the season with a program best 27-7 record and won the regular and conference tournament titles of the Southern Conference. It also has some good experience playing against 2018 tournament teams, only losing to Virginia by 12 points in Charlottesville, before knocking off NC State on the road in Raleigh by a score of 81-76.
The Spartans play one of the slowest tempos in the country (318 out of 351), and will look to grind out a defensive battle against the Zags. Ken Pomeroy ranks UNCG as the 30th most efficient defense, and the Spartans excel at forcing turnovers and crashing the boards.
UNCG shoots a heavy volume of three-pointers, so it could be a long day for Gonzaga if the Spartans get hot from the arc (UNCG is pretty average when it comes to actually converting those attempts). When taking into consideration the stingy defense and pace that UNCG will hope to play, you have all the key historical elements that make up a giant killer in the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen.
Gonzaga will have to control the rebounding game to prevent the Spartans from getting any extra opportunities, and look to implement the uptempo style it played with great success at the start of the season. The Zags have a decided advantage in the frontcourt, so look for big games from Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie, and Rui Hachimura.
Because UNCG’s offense revolves arounds its backcourt, Gonzaga will need Silas Melson to set the tone for the entire defensive unit. Look for Melson to be matched up on UNCG junior guard Francis Alonso who set the UNCG school record for three-pointers made in a season this year with 110 (KenPom has him at 103 since seven of the threes came against non-D1 competition).
Our friends over at Mid-Major Madness did an excellent rundown of the Spartans, so make sure to check it out if you want to know a little more about Gonzaga’s first round opponent. Tip off for Thursday’s tilt is set for 10:30am PT on TNT.