How the West was won

Round one was all chalk in the West games played in Salt Lake City with the 1, 2, 7 and 8 seeds advancing to the second round games on Saturday. Of the Saturday games, the top seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs and second seed Arizona Wildcats are the only two teams out of the Salt Lake West games that are headed to San Jose next week for the Sweet 16.

The Hive Sports correctly predicted three out of the four first round games. Vanderbilt’S loss was the only surprise as many didn’t think a first time NCAA tournament team in Northwestern could win this game. This game was a coin flip as Northwestern won by two points.

Gonzaga and Arizona both easily dispatched their inferior opponents by double digits on Thursday. Gonzaga didn’t want to be the first 1 seed to lose to a 16 so they came to ball and beat the Summit League champion South Dakota State Jackrabbits by a whopping 20 points.

Arizona scored triple digits in a 100-82 win over the Big Sky champion North Dakota Fighting Hawks. They were led by the seven foot Finnish giant Lauri Markannen who scored 20 points and grabbed 6 boards. 

Arizona then used their athleticism to defeat the slightly tougher game against St. Mary’s. Arizona won this game 69-60 due to a balanced scoring attack with four of their starting five players recording double figures in points. Lauri Markannen decided to pull down 11 boards as well en route to his first double double in his first March Madness tournament. 

The Gaels and Wildcats are familiar with each other as they have scrimmaged annually the last few years in the preseason. 

St. Mary’s was especially impressive in their win against a VCU team that was playing at a rapid pace. It helped that the best player on the Rams, JeQuan Lewis was wincing in pain with every fall in the second half. This limited Lewis to a “modest” thirty point outing and an 8 point first round loss. Cinderella will have to wait another year for an invite to the Final Four.

Gonzaga had a rocky start in their 2017 March Madness campaign. They ended the first half against Summit League champion South Dakota State with a meager 4 point lead. The Zags weren’t about to become the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed so they battled in the second half and won the game by 20 points. 

The boards were one reason that the Zags were able to finally dominate this game. The Bulldogs bulldozed over the Jackrabbits to crash 50 boards; 12 more than their opponent. This lead to 5 more field goal attempts which resulted in more shots to take a strangle hold on the ball game.

The Zags then beat the Northwestern Wildcats by 6 points in the second round which some argued might have turned out diffeeently had the refs made a correct goaltending call. The refs didn’t call goaltending on Gonzaga which caused Northwestern coach Chris Collins to lose his cool and earn a technical foul that resulted in a two possession swing. This took the inevitable momentum out of the pompous purple Wildcats who have undoubtedly overachieved in their first NCAA tournament appearance.

Northwestern was especially impressive in their first round matchup against Vanderbilt, a team coached by a man who hit one of the greatest shots in tournament history at Valparaiso. Northwestern can hold their heads high on this performance and then raise expectations for next year. They will need to do so to compete in the ever difficult Big 10 conference.

The big picture here is that the road to the final four could have very well started in Salt Lake City as advertised. Maybe Xavier, the only double seeded team left in the tournament, could upset the Wildcats. Maybe Bob Huggins will find a way to avoid another DUI and lead the West Virginia Mountaineers to upset top seeded Gonzaga. 

You’d be hard pressed to bet money on these outcomes though. 

Prediction: Zoner beats the Zags in overtime in the Elite 8 to advance to the Final Four in the nearby town of Glendale.

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