Muskies Advance to Elite 8!! #1 Seed Gonzaga Next-Saturday-6:09EDT-TBS-at San Jose!!
By Andy Mac Williams, 3/24/2017

Do the clichés apply? Is Xavier really a Cinderella after rallying from 8 points down with 3:45 remaining to take out heavily favored #2 Seed Arizona(PAC 12 Champ) 73-71 early Friday morning out West?? Granted-the Muskie "W" was a slight upset(considering the magnitude of the late comeback)-but not a lightening strike freakish stroke of luck.Actually,Ken Pomeroy gave Arizona a 97% chance of winning when they were up 8 with 3:45 left,but who believes in advanced metrics when your team defies the odds with actual human effort. Damn the computers!! It's full speed ahead to the Elite 8!! Seth Davis of CBS picked XU on the pre-game TV set.Charles Barkley was busy eating a bacon sandwich. Kenny "the Jet" Smith was worrying about North Carolina-Butler and chomping on doughnuts. Yours truly-Andy Mac-had it 72-70 Xavier in my Scouting Report on this website.

I'm no basketball Nostradamus for sure! The last time a picked a winner(except for XU over #6 Maryland,#3 Florida State and #2 Arizona in the NCAAs) Moby Dick was a minnow(I stole that line from Pete Gillen). I just trusted in Coach Chris Mack,his staff and players.

They rolled out their ball control morphing defense magic March Madness formula and won their 6th game in 7 tries under one-and-done pressure. XU showed better discipline-more heart and better execution than Arizona. They deserved to win!!

SO HOW DID THE MUSKIES DO IT??

The Wildcats were an 8 point favorite. They'd won 6 in a row since a rare home court loss in Tucson to UCLA. Arizona fans saw this as Coach Sean Miller's best path ever to the Final 4. UA had beaten XU 68-60 in Los Angeles in the 2015 Sweet 16. They figured the Muskies would wilt again then their Wildcats would get even with Gonzaga in the Elite 8 avenging a December loss to the Zags in LA. Not so fast!! XU fell behind early 10-2.

The Muskies got good shots making a point of pounding the ball at the Zona 7 footers. UA's best defender(PAC 12 Defensive Player of the Year) Senior Kadeem Allen was tagged with two early fouls.Frosh He couldn't guard Trevon Bluiett sitting next to Coach Miller on the bench.

Mack subbed in Sean O'Mara and Kaiser Gates early and Xavier switched to a 2-3 zone. Zona kept grabbing offensive rebounds. Markkanen and Rustic(the BIGS) scored inside,but Bluiett made shots and UA started launching threes as the zone morphed from 2-3 to 1-3-1. Xavier took their first lead 20-19 with 7:37 left.

The tempo was mostly half court where Xavier needed it to stay close. Bluiett killed it(18 first half points on 7-8 shooting). J.P. Macura chipped in 8 points(key FTs late) and the Muskies trailed just 37-35 at the half. Arizona owned the rebounding numbers,but showed their inexperience by settling for too many jumpers over the zones.

SECOND HALF:

It became a game of runs!! UA would build a lead then XU would reel them in and visa versa. There were 12 ties and 13 lead changes. Allen matched up man-to-man against Bluiett and locked Trevon up early. Zona stuck with their bread and butter packline defense while Xavier kept switching. B

luiett did not force shots. Macura and Malcolm Bernard chipped in on offense. UA went away from their inside game and Soph Alonzo Trier became their offense taking off on a personal 15 run. Zona built the lead to 8(69-61) by making contested jumpers and tough runners off the dribble. Xavier stayed patient-got stops and began chipping away!!

Arizona(Trier) started forcing shots and missing while X played inside-out,ran smart offense and made open shots. Arizona scored their last bucket with 2:50 remaining on a Kadeem Allen lay-up to go ahead 71-64. It was all XU after that(a 9-0 run).Bluiett scored 5.Bernard scored 5 winding up with a career best(so far)15 points. Sean O'Mara banked in the game winning basket to make it 73-71 Muskies with about 40 seconds left.

Mack coached his butt off!! With 50 seconds left after a strong wall-up defensive stop from Tyrique Jones and the game tied at 71, Xavier spread the floor making Arizona guard Macura and Bluiett on the wings. The play went to O'Mara on a high-low dump down lob from Bluiett. O'Mara sealed off 7 footer Markkanen with his rear end and rolled to the basket for an easy two. The UA double team was late. Arizona had no time-outs left. Miller could have used one.

Shot selection was bad. O'Mara was fouled grabbing a rebound then missed the front end of a one and one. Again Zona had no time-out available and Trier settled for a forced long three. Xavier gang rebounded. Malcolm Bernard then dribbled out the clock and the celebration began.

Bill Murray(son Luke is an XU assistant coach) gave Sister Rosanne a "noogie" worthy of a Saturday Night Live Skit. Coach Miller showed great sportsmanship going out of his way to congratulate Macura and Bluiett and O'Mara.

RANDOM THOUGHTS:

Xavier ran better offense shooting an efficient 53%FG including a controlled 6-16 from three point range. Arizona shot poorly for them(43.5%FG) with way too many threes considering their size edge(7-27).XU kept the turnovers low(just 8 after coughing the ball up a mere 9 times vs FSU). Bluiett was virtuoso(25 points) and a 25PPG average in the 3 NCAA victories.

Malcolm Bernard keeps extending his career. He's Xavier's leader in rebounds in the 6 post season games(6 plus boards) and tied with Macura for the lead in hustle plays and floor burns. J.P. led vocally and by example(11.3PPG-11assists-just 3 turnovers-rebounds-heady plays).

O'Mara has gone from 8th man afterthought to prime time BIG(12.3PPG-5Rebounds-85%FG(11-13) and 79%FT(15-19).

Coach Mack is now 10-6 in NCAA games. This is his first Elite 8 and 4th Sweet 16. XU is the 7th #11 Seed to advance to the Elite 8 Round. They are the first #11 seed ever to beat a #2 Seed. Three #11s have advanced to the Final Four(LSU-1986,George Mason 2006 and VCU-Havoc under Shaka Smart in 2011).

This Xavier's third Elite 8 trip. In 2004 the Muskies lost as a #7 to #1 Duke in Atlanta 66-63. In 2008 Xavier lost as a #3 to #1 UCLA in Phoenix 76-57. Both Duke and UCLA wre awash in NBA prospects. Duke had Luol Deng and J.J. Redick. UCLA featured future All Stars Kevin Love and Russell Westbrooke.

WHAT'S NEXT??

Gonzaga is 35-1 and a consensus 9 point favorite over Xavier. Ken Pomeroy picks the Zags 78-68 and gives the Muskies a 17% chance of winning. GU is West Coast Conference Regular Season and Tournament Champ. They lost one game to BYU in Spokane to close out the regular season.Since then they've won 6 in a row.

Hugs and Press Virginia gave the Zags a tussle in the Sweet 16. The Bulldogs survived the pressure and won it 61-58 to advance to play Xavier Saturday out West.

Gonzaga is looking to make their first Final Four trip also. They've been rated #1 in both polls and are a #1 Seed in the West Region. This is a veteran Zags team featuring several transfers-upper classmen and a huge lefty post from Poland Przemek Karnowski(7-1,300 pounds-5th year Senior) with the full beard-a true low post load. GU beat Arizona 69-62 at Staples Center in LA before Alonzo Trier was eligible for UA.

Gonzaga has led wire-to-wire in most games this season. They maul people. If Xavier can use their current template-control tempo and take good shots,they can beat the Zags with a game in the 60s or low 70s. GU has more experience than Arizona. They will run better offense against the Muskie zones and probably get better shots. GU is very efficient shooting the ball(57.3 % effective FG%-#6 NCAA). They are good from three but don't over do the ling ball.

Their vet PG Nigel Williams Goss is rated the 6th best player in the country by Ken Pom.He's a University of Washington transfer and consummate Senior lead guard. The wings Josh Perkins and Jordan Matthews(U San Francisco transfer) are lethal offensively. 6-9 Power Forward Jonathon Williams is a Mizzou transfer who played against XU two years ago. He is very versatile and mobile.

The bench is stacked with a 7 footer Zach Collins and a 6-10 Frosh Killian Tillie. The top guard reserve is 6-4 Silas Melson. XU is 0-3 against Mark Few coached Gonzaga team. There was a 2006 NCAA first round loss when Kevin Morrison of GU got star treatment and Gonzaga scraped by 79-75. Then a loss in 2011 in Spokane where nobody wins. Then a great game at Cintas in 2012 which Xavier lost late.

Time to beat Gonzaga!! 72-69 Xavier in another controlled cool disciplined display by the Muskies. Bluiett will have to drop a large number. GU will zone some. Their defense is very underrated with size inside and veteran fast guards.

I like the symmetry!! So called Xavier upsets over Seeds 6,then 3,then 2 then 1 in descending order!! That's never been done in NCAA history.

X has not beaten a #1 Seed in the NCAA. There have been GREAT CLOSE GAMES!!! Indiana in 1993 at the Hoosier Dome(lost 73-70). Duke in Atlanta 2004(lost 66-63). Ohio State at Rupp Arena in 2007(lost 78-71 in OT). UCLA in Phoenix 2008(OK-not so great-lost 76-57) and Pitt in Boston 2009(lost 60-55).

Now's the time! Gonzaga is the target. Phoenix and the Final Four is the goal!! Let's do it!!!!




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