#11 Gonzaga (27-7) vs #3 Utah (27-8)
When: Saturday, March 19th 2016
Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
Time: 8:40 ET | TV: TNT
Two teams who made deeps runs in last year’s tournament meet Saturday night in Denver for the right to advance to the Sweet 16 when the Gonzaga Bulldogs take on the Utah Utes. Gonzaga is coming off an upset win over sixth-seeded Seton Hall on Thursday despite the fact that they were slight favorites. Sophomore Domantas Sabonis scored 21 points and grabbed a school-record (tournament games) 16 rebounds in the 68-52 win over the Pirates. It was Gonzaga’s eighth-straight first round victory, matching Kansas for the longest current streak. Senior forward Kyle Wiltjer (20.5 points per game) is the highest scorer on either team and leads four Bulldogs in double figures. Sabonis (17.5 points) is seventh nationally at 11.7 rebounds while senior Eric McClellan (10.5 points) – the West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year – and freshman Josh Perkins (10.2) lead the backcourt for Gonzaga. Senior guard Kyle Dranginis (6.6 points, 4.4 rebounds) adds veteran leadership while sophomore guard Silas Melson (6.8 points) also contributes. The Zags reached the Elite Eight last season before losing to eventual national champion Duke.
Utah has a superb big-man up front as well in Jakob Poeltl. The Pac-12 Player of the Year recorded 16 points and 18 rebounds in the Utes’ 80-69 victory over Fresno State on Thursday. The Utes allowed the Bulldogs to shoot almost 50% from the floor to hang around, but Utah outrebounded Fresno 35-14. Poeltl (team highs of 17.6 points and 9.2 rebounds), who is the 13th player in school history to score 600 points in a season, receives support down low from sophomore forward Kyle Kuzma (10.6 points, 5.8 rebounds). Senior forward Jordan Loveridge (11.9 points) scored 16 versus Fresno State while Lorenzo Bonam (10.1 points, 3.1 assists) and Brandon Taylor (9.8, 3.9) combined for 33, but were just 2-of-7 from beyond the arc. Coach Larry Krystkowiak uses an eight-man rotation that averages at least 13 minutes and includes senior forward Dakarai Tucker (5.3 points). Utah is looking to reach the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season. The winner will get either 10th-seed Syracuse or 15th-seed Middle Tennessee State in the Sweet 16.
I like the way this Gonzaga team is playing, but Utah is the better team overall. Poeltl will be a handful underneath against Sabonis and Utah’s guards are better and more experienced. I’ll take the Utes.
Pick: Utah PK