The Elite Eight is upon us and it doesn’t look anything like anyone predicted. Sure, there’s still some powerhouses remaining and Gonzaga did well to hold on against the Mountaineers in a last minute scramble but with so many top teams already eliminated from the tournament you can see why the Madness is always a bettor’s paradise
Now the field is shrunk but the stakes are just as high and with some serious Cinderella teams still left in contention the action only gets more exciting. We’re here to guide you through all four games and make sure you get the best information possible before making your picks to see who gets to say they made it to the Final Four. Let’s get to it!
#11 Xavier Musketeers vs. #1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Xavier (+8.5) vs. Gonzaga (-8.5)
The Bulldogs have been here before and as a number one overall seed they know that anything less than a national championship will be a major disappointment. They still have a long way to go though and standing in their way is the highest seed left in the tournament. The #1 Bulldogs and #11 Xavier Musketeers will tip off in the first game of the Elite Eight when they meet on Saturday in the West Region final in San Jose, California.
Both teams are trying to make it to their first ever Final Four and both teams are in the Elite Eight for just the third time in their schools’ histories. It’s a classic example of two teams that continue play above their means with so many powerhouses schools all around them and that tenacity has been rewarded with a trip to the Elite Eight.
Xavier was brilliant in their upset over Arizona and closed the game off with a 9-0 run just when it looked like their tournament was finally over. They are trying to become just the 4th 11 seed to ever crash the Final Four party and join the likes of LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006 and of course VCU in 2011. With all the pressure on the Bulldogs to advance Xavier is essentially playing with borrowed time and it seems to be a situation they thrive in. The Bulldogs are coming on after narrowly escaping West Virginia in one of the most exciting games we’ve seen in the tournament and will need to hope their game is still up for a battle with a team that has nothing to lose.
Xavier enters with a 24-12 record overall this season and are led by arguably the player of the tournament so far in Trevon Bluiett. He dropped 25 points against the Wildcats in the biggest win of his career and has raised his season average to 18.3 points per game thanks to his hot play during the tournament. He’s also up uo 88 three points on the year and can launch the ball from anywhere if he gets an open look. He’s playing with no fear right now and after leading his team past Arizona won’t be intimidated by Gonzaga come Saturday.
Making matters even more impressive for the Musketeers is the fact that they lost Edmond Sumner earlier this year to a season ending knee injury. He was averaging 15 points and five assists a game and the team has had to try and recreate that as best they can with the pieces they have left.
It truly is a team effort when it comes to Xavier outside of Bluiett. No player averages more than 5.9 rebounds or 3.5 assists and the ball movement has to run though Bluiett on almost every possession. Luckily for Xavier the Musketeer is more than capable of making smart decisions with the basketball and he’ll be a handful to contain for the Bulldogs.
Gonzaga enters with their excellent record of 35-1 and are trying to make it to their first Final Four ever. They have arguably the best team they’ve ever assembled this year and are finding some timely scoring from all over the court. Jordan Matthews was the latest hero. He averages just 10.7 points a game but hit one of the most clutch three pointers in the tournament this season to put his team ahead of the Mountaineers with under a minute left.
He was also part of the Bulldogs’ excellent defense on the night. Gonzaga held West Virginia to just 26.7 percent shooting from the field and they’ll need to bring that same energy against Bluiett and the rest of his Xavier teammates. The Bulldogs are led by Nigel Williams-Goss who is averaging 16.5 points and 4.7 assists this year but has struggled during the tournament. He’s made just 12 of the 42 shots he’s attempted throughout the Madness and will need to find his rhythm quick if the bulldogs want to be serious title threats. Gonzaga is also led by Przemek Karnowski who was a brick wall against West Virginia. He averages 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds and as long as he can stay on the court he’s tough to move anywhere.
Nigel Williams-Goss against Trevon Bluiett. Blueitt is the more explosive scorer but Williams-Goss handles the ball better than almost anyone and sees the court like a seasoned pro. The two will battle each other constantly and try to disrupt the other’s rhythm in order to get their team ahead. We can’t wait to see these two go at it on Saturday night.
Gonzaga owns a 3-1 all-time series lead but that hardly matters with both wins coming more than five years ago. They’ll need to rely on the team they have now and frankly, it might not be enough to get in the way of Xavier. If Jordan Matthews can stay got the Bulldogs he could help lift them to the next round though. He’s averaging 14.3 points with nine threes during the tourney and isn’t afraid to shoot his shot. We think Gonzaga is going to live up to their seed and make it into the Final Four, but its going to be way closer than the 8.5 point spread suggests. Take Xavier to cover.
#3 Oregon Ducks vs. #1 Kansas Jayhawks
Oregon (+6.5) vs. Kansas (-6.5)
The Ducks and Jayhawks square off in a huge Elite 8 game on Saturday night in what should be a chilling game at the Sprint Center. Oregon has had an exciting run through the tournament and it only gets more dramatic on Saturday. The Ducks made easy work of Iona in the first round with a 93-77 win before moving on to face everyone’s favorite dark horse in the second round, the Rhode Island Rams. The Rams jumped out to an early lead despite being the 11th seed but Oregon responded with toughness and experience and held on tight for the 75-72 win. It didn’t get any easier for Oregon after that when they had to face everyone’s favorite Cinderella squad in the Michigan Wolverines. The Wolverines gave it their all right down to the wire but some huge plays from the Ducks let them hold on for the 69-68 win.
It’s been a different story for Kansas as the Jayhawks have more or less breezed through the tournament. Kansas beat UC Davis by almost 40 points in their first round blowout then went on to dismantle Michigan State by 20 points in the second round despite some strong play from Miles Bridges. After that it looked like they might finally have a test in their game against Purdue when the Boilermakers jumped out to an early lead but the Jayhawks put their foot on the gas and ran over Purdue in the second half on their way to a huge 98-66 win.
While the victories are nice Kansas could be in for a rude awakening when they get set to play Oregon. The Ducks have had a much tougher path to the Elite Eight and have had to grind out some las minute wins. They’ve relied on their experience and some strong play calling in the final minutes while Kansas has just skated by on their athleticism and shot-making. That’s not a bad thing, but if Kansas is caught unaware they could be in for a long night against the Ducks.
Oregon has what it takes to complete the upsets. The Ducks will need to make sure Kansas doesn’t make it to the free throw line too often, and that means playing smart, solid defense. Oregon will also have to win the battle on the glass and that could be tough without Chris Boucher to help them. The Ducks out rebounded the Wolverines 36-31 thanks in large part to Jordan Bell’s 13 boards and he’ll need to crash the glass early and often with all the verticality Kansas has on their roster.
Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey will need to be lights out when it comes to scoring as well. They combined for 32 points on 12 of 28 shooting in their Sweet 16 win over Michigan but will need to deliver more if they want to contend with the firepower that Kansas brings to the table. Brooks has been excellent all over the court for Oregon but he’ll need to be out of this world to help punch his team’s ticket to the Final Four.
In Kansas the Jayhawks have been unbelievable to watch all tournament long. With as strong as their scoring has been they’re going to need to play some defense against the likes of Brooks and Dorsey and that means forcing them into some tough shots. Still, their trio of high-scorers are more than capable of keeping up with anyone and will need to be dynamite again. Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson and Devonte’ Graham were out of this world in their Sweet 16 win with 77 points between the three of them on 22 of 39 shooting.
Jackson has been out of this world for the Jayhawks this season and his athleticism was on full display in his last game. He pulled down 12 boards and swiped four steals to go along with his offensive production and if he can keep all that up against Oregon it’s going to to be a long night for the Ducks.
Josh Jackson against Dillon Brooks. Like Jackson, Brooks does everything on the court for his team and that will be expected of him again on Saturday night. He doesn’t have the same high-flying abilities as Jackson but he has the size and touch to get his. He’ll need to help Jordan Bell bang on the boards as Kansas has out rebounded every opponent they’ve faced in the tournament so far as well.
Kansas has yet to run into a team that is as experienced and high-functioning as the Ducks and while we still expect #RockChalk to get the win we don’t expect it to be a blowout. The Elite Eight is all about close games with the Final Four meaning so much for both teams. Take Oregon on the spread to cover and hope Brooks and Dorsey can score enough to keep it close.
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