March Madness Round 64 Preview
UNC Greensboro vs. Gonzaga
When fourth-seeded Gonzaga faces No. 13 seed UNC Greensboro on Thursday in the first round of the West Region at Boise, Idaho, the Zags might have flashbacks to their former Cinderella days. Gonzaga, making its 20th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, enters as confident favorites against upset-minded UNC Greensboro, which is making its first trip to the Big Dance since 2001.
Five players average double figures in scoring for Gonzaga, which claimed its sixth consecutive West Coast Conference Tournament championship with Tuesday’s 74-54 victory over BYU. The Zags fell in last season’s NCAA championship game and figured to take a step back after losing four of their top five scorers, but coach Mark Few reloaded and saw his team reach the 30-win mark for the fourth time in six seasons. The Zags dominated at the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas with three wins by an average of 20.7 points, with sophomore forward Killian Tillie averaging 24.0 points on a remarkable 77.8 percent shooting to win tournament MVP honors. While the Zags are aiming for another deep run, they’ll need to be careful not to overlook UNC Greensboro, which boasts a veteran backcourt and ranks sixth in the nation in scoring defense at 62.4 points per game.
TV: 1:20 p.m. ET, TNT
ABOUT UNC GREENSBORO (27-7): The Spartans earned an automatic bid after point guard Demetrius Troy and forward Jordy Kuiper scored 13 points apiece in a 62-47 victory over East Tennessee State in the Southern Conference Tournament championship game. The team’s leading scorers, guard Francis Alonso and forward Marvin Smith, were held to a combined 13 points on 3-for-18 shooting in the title game, but the Spartans’ stingy defense proved to be the difference. James Dickey, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, made the all-tournament team and will be a key factor against Gonzaga’s formidable front line.
ABOUT GONZAGA (30-4): The Zags dominated the All-WCC selections as forwards Johnathan Williams and Rui Hachimura were named to the First Team along with guard Josh Perkins, while freshman guard Zach Norvell Jr. was named Newcomer of the Year. Williams, one of two seniors in the starting lineup, led the team in scoring at 13.5 points per game and had 10 points and 13 rebounds to help the Zags pull away from BYU. “That last 20 minutes was scary, and fun to be part of,” Perkins told reporters. “If we keep doing that, the sky is the limit for this group. I’m feeling really confident going into the NCAA Tournament.”
1. The winner will play No. 5 seed Ohio State or No. 12 South Dakota in Saturday’s second round.
2. Gonzaga ranks ninth in the country in scoring at 84.5 points per game and second in scoring margin at plus-17.4 while one of seven teams nationally to shoot better than 50 percent (50.3).
3. UNC Greensboro closed the season by winning 11 of its 12 final games, including six straight.