GONZAGA (10-2) AT XAVIER (9-3)
Time/TV: 8 p.m./ESPN2
Location: Cintas Center
Line: Xavier -2.5
Gonzaga Players to Watch: C Robert Sacre, Sr. (12.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg); F Elias Harris, Jr. (13.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg); G Kevin Pangos, Fr. (14.9 ppg, 43.4% 3s). When Sacre is aggressive, the Bulldogs are tough to beat.
Xavier Players to Watch: G Tu Holloway, Sr. (18.7 ppg, 5.1 apg); G Mark Lyons, Jr. (17.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg); C Kenny Frease, Sr. (9.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg). Lyons returned from his suspension to score 35 points in the Musketeers’ last two games.
Storylines: This is one of those games that isn’t just big for the two programs, but for their conferences, as well. Both conferences believe they deserve multiple NCAA bids and that could hinge of the outcome of this one. Gonzaga has the depth, experience and talent to be among the nation’s best teams, but the Bulldogs have struggled against the best competition on their schedule. Xavier lost three in a row before an 87-77 win over Southern Illinois in the seventh-place game of the Diamondhead Classic in Honolulu.
Keys to Victory: The Musketeers have an advantage in the backcourt with Holloway and Lyons. With Sacre and Harris, the Bulldogs are stronger under the basket. Which duo has the better night will likely determine the outcome.
The Bottom Line: This is an incredibly hard game to predict. Xavier has struggled to get back to its early form since its brawl with Cincinnati. It will happen. It’s a matter of when, not if. Having a strong Gonzaga team coming into its home seems like the right time to get things turned around.
The Pick: Xavier 77, Gonzaga 73.
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