clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Up Next: Gonzaga

No. 11 seed Gonzaga upset no. 6 seed Seton Hall on Thursday to set up a Saturday match up with the Utes.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Raise your hand if your bracket's Midwest region is still intact. Four lower seeds earned victories in the Midwest region's first round including  Syracuse, Middle Tennessee and Utah's next opponent, the no. 11 seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs. Middle Tennessee's ousting of a Michigan State team that was a favorite to reach the final four, seems to have opened up an easier path for Utah to reach the Elite Eight. Even with Michigan State out, it is still a difficult road ahead, beginning Saturday night in what has become a huge game against the Zags.

Gonzaga played really well on the defensive end on Thursday against a Seton Hall team fresh off a Big East tournament title. Gonzaga limited Seton Hall's leading scorer and star player, Isaiah Whitehead to just ten points, well below his season average and frustrated the Pirates all night with their defense. Offensively, Gonzaga rode Demontas Sabonis' 21 points and 16 rebounds to a surprisingly comfortable 68-52 upset.

The Zags play a very similar style to the Utes, with both playing fundamentally sound basketball, preferably at a controlled pace. The teams also look similar from a personnel perspective. The Zags have a dominant big man in Sabonis (Arvydas Sabonis' son), a forward that can play inside and shoot lights out from out side in Kyle Wiltjer, and lanky guard that can slash to the hoop in Eric McClellan.

One area Utah will need to drastically improve upon is turnovers. Utah committed 19 turnovers against Fresno State, a stat that will not fly against a team as fundamentally sound and disciplined as Gonzaga. The Utes were able to get away with their sloppy play against a clearly inferior Fresno State squad, but will not have the same luck against Gonzaga. Despite Utah being slotted eight spots higher than Gonzaga in the bracket, do not be fooled. The Zags win over Seton Hall was not a fluke. This game is essentially a pick 'em. Utah will need to have a clean game and play well to advance.

The most prominent matchup and maybe most consequential matchup in this game will be the battle of the bigs. Poeltl vs. Sabonis. Both players are paramount to their teams success and both teams will need their guy to stay out of foul trouble to win the game.

Poeltl has proven his worth over the course of the season winning Pac-12 Player of the Year. Against Fresno State, Poeltl put on a rebounding clinic, out rebounding Fresno State's entire team 18-15. Poeltl's 18 rebounds were a career high and kept Utah in control throughout most of the game despite their sloppy play. Poeltl will need to have another big night for Utah to get a win. If Poeltl gets into foul trouble and is on the bench, Utah will have difficulty matching up with both Sabonis and Wiltjer down low.

The same theory applies to Gonzaga who need Sabonis on the floor against Utah. Against other teams, the Zags might be able to get by if Sabonis got into foul trouble. Against Utah, if Sabonis is on the bench, Poeltl will be unchecked with no counterpart on the floor much like against Fresno State. Sabonis presence will be key for Gonzaga to win this game.

The X-factor in this game could be how the Utes handle Wiltjer's ability to stretch the defense with his three point shot. Wiltjer is versatile, with the ability to play in the post, but also lethal from behind the arc. If Wiltjer is able to find his shot from deep, that will open up things for Sabonis in the paint. Utah needs to make sure Wiltjer is uncomfortable all night and doesn't get any easy shots.

On Utah's side, Jordan Loveridge has been hot from behind the three point line lately. That will need to continue for Utah to beat a good shooting Gonzaga team. Brandon Taylor will help provide a deep threat, but Utah will need both hitting consistently to draw attention away from Poeltl in the post.

The madness is underway and Saturday night should be a close contest between two very well coached teams. Here's hoping the Utes bring their "A" game and advance to the sweet sixteen!