No. 4 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Gonzaga
This is the first tip Thursday from San Jose, Calif. The Zags are two wins from their first-ever Final Four trip. They have not played much like a top seed in shaky wins over No. 16 North Dakota State and No. 8 Northwestern in this tournament. Some were soft on Gonzaga because of its weak schedule in the West Coast Conference. A potentially fatal flaw has been detected in the Big Dance as the Zags have had trouble with pressure defense. Northwestern nearly rallied from a 22-point deficit – and might have come all the way back if not for a terrible goaltending call that went Gonzaga’s way — thanks to forcing Gonzaga turnovers through pressure.
No school in the country relies more on full-court pressure than Coach Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers. They rank No. 1 nationally in turnover percentage and third in steals percentage. WVU gave Notre Dame’s excellent offense fits in the Round of 32 as the Irish barely made 40 percent from the field. Meanwhile, WVU has shot 52.0 percent from 3-point range in the NCAA Tournament, best of any team that has played at least two games. If the Mountaineers keep shooting like that, they will cut down the nets on April 3. West Virginia wasn’t a strong shooting team during the regular season and Gonzaga had the No. 1 effective field-goal percentage defense.
Teddy & Pauly’s “Play of the Day” is under 148.5 on this game.
No. 11 Xavier vs. No. 2 Arizona
The nightcap from San Jose and the “Sean Miller Bowl.” Miller was very successful at Xavier from 2004-09, going 120-47 and reaching a couple of Sweet 16s in the NCAA Tournament. Arizona hired him in April 2009. Miller was replaced by good friend and former assistant Chris Mack by Xavier. Neither likes coaching against one another because they are so close. Xavier and Arizona met in the Sweet 16 two years ago and the Wildcats won 68-60 in Los Angeles. Xavier has never been to a Final Four. It’s the school’s fourth Sweet 16 under Mack despite never being higher than a No. 6 seed. XU is 0-3 in the previous three but did cover the spread in each.
Arizona is going to cause matchup problems for Xavier because the Musketeers didn’t see a ton of size playing in the Big East and the Wildcats have two 7-footers in fabulous freshman Lauri Markkanen and junior Dusan Ristic. They combine for more than 26 points and 12 rebounds per game. Arizona is 10-1 in its past 11 games and avenged that only loss to UCLA. Miller has yet to reach a Final Four in his career.
Cavaliers At Nuggets
The interesting game of the night Wednesday in the NBA has Cleveland continuing its Western Conference road trip in the thin air of Denver. The Cavaliers are still the team to beat in the East but are 29th in defensive efficiency since the All-Star break. They were torched Sunday night at the terrible Lakers and needed a big fourth-quarter comeback to win. The Nuggets have lost two straight – both to Houston in a home-and-home and in games that went to the wire. Denver has had the NBA’s second-best offensive efficiency since the break. Nikola Jokic is now a nightly threat for a triple-double and has eight double-doubles in his past 10. No surprise the total here of 228.5 is easily the NBA’s highest on Wednesday.