Gonzaga Rolls Past Xavier to Reach the 2017 Final Four

It seems appropriate in a year when the Final Four will make its first stop in Arizona, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, the first FF in the west since Seattle in 1995, that the first two teams to qualify were western teams, Gonzaga for the first time and OR for the first time since it won the first NCAA Tournament in 1939, followed Sunday by a complete outlier in SC, which won as many NCAA games (four) in 10 days as it had in its history and the requisite blueblood, North Carolina, making its record 20th Final Four appearance.

"I mean, that's the way basketball goes", said Xavier guard J.P. Macura, who joined Bluiett on the West Regional All-Tournament Team.

But when asked to explain the Bulldogs' success in an 83-59 victory in the West Regional final, Xavier coach Chris Mack pointed to Karnowski, the Zags' the senior center from Torun, Poland.

Three pointers nearly always matter. This Gamecocks defense is one of the most frustrating and stifling defenses imaginable; they're so physical and relentless they wear down opponents mentally by the second half, which is usually when SC mounts its comebacks - or puts away foes.

Gonzaga and SC will tip-off at 6:09 p.m.

You have one team (Gonzaga) that ranked 320 out of 351 Division I teams in continuity of minutes from previous year, that starts three transfers plus a center who sat out most of last season, that brings a true freshman as the first guy off the bench. The Gators did not make a single 3-pointer in the second half of that contest in the face of the Gamecocks' tenacious defense.

Now this first one might not be a "hot" take but there's something to be said of a team seeded 11th, having a chance to advance to the Final Four on Saturday. Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson can't combine for 1-of-10 shooting from three-point range again.

As a team, SC also wasn't all that bad this year.

Meanwhile, other popular teams like Kansas, Arizona, UCLA and Kentucky lost in the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight.

No. 1 seed Gonzaga has the second-best odds at +180.

North Carolina's Roy Williams will be the granddaddy of the Final Four compared with the trio of first-timers in Glendale, Ariz. This should be much more of a scoring show, with the sixth (UNC) and 16th (Oregon) most efficient offenses.

Phil Mathews, who coached USF to its most recent NCAA bid in 1998, now is head coach at Riverside City College.

The Bulldogs continued to outshoot XU in the second half as they finished 12-of-24 for the game. "We've won a few games like that". The Jayhawks lost to OR, 74-60 and it felt worse.

Tyler Dorsey scored 20 points and this is his sixth straight game with 20 or more points.

"People think West Coast kids are soft, (that) we're all about going to the beach, sunshine", said OR forward Jordan Bell, a Long Beach Poly product.

Kansas, playing a quasi home game 40 miles from campus, looked tentative all game.

". Hopefully it'll be very similar to the last two weekends, which we went into like a four-team tournament". Even when OR was playing a bit not to lose late, KU could never make a big momentum basket despite numerous chances. Oregon's Nike jerseys cover the latter, but the team itself is a Pac 12 squad with no pedigree that doesn't get the attention it would if it played in the ACC or Big Ten.

One stat best illustrates the school's rise as a basketball power. That comes out to about 15.28%, or more than one every two seasons. I don't recall people deriding North Carolina a year ago for catching breaks, but the run was nearly identical until the Tar Heels faced Villanova in the final.

With the game tied at 73 points apiece with seconds left, sophomore forward Luke Maye hits the most clutch shot of his life: a jumper just inside the three-point line to send the Tar Heels back to the Final Four.

Well then, as long as we are here, "we might as well win it all".

Kentucky did not make the Final Four despite doing John Chaney proud, committing just 34 turnovers over 277 possessions in its four NCAA games.

Matter of fact, three of the four Final Four coaches - Martin, Gonzaga's Mark Few and Oregon's Dana Altman - have reached this stage of the tournament for the first times in their stellar careers.

  • Larry Hoffman