As of late, Gonzaga certainly looks like a 29-0 squad. In the Sweet Sixteen, Gonzaga won by an impressive 18 points against Creighton. However, Gonzaga will face a team playing at their peak as well in USC. USC has dismantled every team in the NCAA Tournament winning be an average of 21 points. Keys to this Elite Eight showdown includes great defensive play and distributed scoring.
Gonzaga had a great shooting night versus Creighton shooting 59.6%. Also, Gonzaga leads the country shooting 55.1% per game. They certainly shot above-average in the Sweet Sixteen, but only about 4% above their normal shooting night. That’s how good and efficient Gonzaga’s offense is. Two of Gonzaga’s top three leading-scorers had off-nights. Corey Kispert averages 19 points, but only had 12. In addition, Jalen Suggs averages 13.9 points, but only had nine points. However, Gonzaga still dominated Creighton. This was due to other scorers like Andrew Nembhard and Jay Ayayi stepping up. Nembhard shot 7/9 with 17 points versus Creighton, this is eight points above his average. Simultaneously, Ayayi had 13 points against Creighton. Gonzaga is the best offensive team in the country due to their numerous scoring options. Yet again, Gonzaga will need several players to shoot well against USC.
Additionally, USC has been red-hot from three in the NCAA Tournament. On the year, USC is 60th in the country shooting 36.3% from three. USC is shooting a blazing 48.3% from three in their previous three games. Also, USC shot well over 50% from three in the Round of 32 and Sweet Sixteen. USC’s best three point shooters are Isaiah Mobley at 44.4%, Drew Peterson at 39.1% and Tahj Eaddy shooting 39%. Clearly, Gonzaga has to figure out how to slow USC down from three. Gonzaga has held opponents to 28.3% from three in the NCAA Tournament. USC has shot the lights out from three this tournament while Gonzaga has played great perimeter defense. Whoever wins this particular matchup could likely win the game.
For USC, their primary defensive focus should be stopping Gonzaga’s Drew Timme. Timme is a 6-foot-10 forward averaging 18.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest. Furthermore, Timme is averaging 26 points while shooting 73.1% in his last two games. Timme posted a career-high of 30 versus Oklahoma in the Round of 32. Obviously Timme is a great player for Gonzaga as he is a 2nd Team All-American.
USC is one of the tallest and longest teams in the country. Every USC opponent in the NCAA Tournament saw their offensive averages drop significantly due to USC’s length. Teams are shooting only 32.2% against USC in March Madness. USC has Evan Mobley and Isaiah Mobley standing at 7-foot and 6-foot-10 in their frontcourt. This could be the toughest frontcourt Gonzaga’s Timme has seen all season. If Timme is kept in check, Gonzaga could have fewer open perimeter shots and will get less points in the paint. Gonzaga will not be completely stopped on offense due to their high talent level, but USC can start to limit them by slowing down Timme.
Lastly, USC will need distributed scoring against Gonzaga. USC had a different leading scorer in every game in the NCAA Tournament. The younger Mobley brother, Evan, led USC with 17 points versus Drake. The elder Mobley brother, Isaiah, poured in 17 against Kansas. Also, Isaiah White erupted for a season-high of 22 against Oregon. USC will need several reliable scorers against Gonzaga. This will prevent Gonzaga from deploying a lot of double teams on USC, even scoring will keep Gonzaga honest.
Players to Watch
For Gonzaga, Timme is a force inside. As previously mentioned, he has been a monster in his last two games. Also, since USC’s defensive plan should begin with stopping Timme, the Gonzaga big will be a major key player to keep an eye on.
Also, Kispert and Suggs are coming off decent games in Gonzaga’s Sweet Sixteen win. Kispert has been under 16 points in his last two games, he could be due for a big 20+ point game versus USC. Also, Suggs is extremely talented and is capable of having a huge game.
For USC, the youngest Mobley brother Evan will be a big factor. His size and length allows him to average three blocks per game while snagging 8.8 rebounds per game. In addition, he is extremely athletic and averages 16.3 points. Mobley is only averaging 10 in his past two games. He could be due for a huge game, especially when considering he will be the largest player on the floor.
Eaddy is a terrific shot-creating guard for USC. He averages 13.7 points and shredded Oregon’s defense in the Sweet Sixteen. Against Oregon, Eaddy dropped 20 points while shooting 63.6% and was 3/6 from three. Eaddy will be the smallest player on the court standing at 6-foot-2. However, he could have a speed advantage in this game, and he has the ability to separate off the dribble.
Gonzaga is the overwhelming title favorite for a reason with a record of 29-0. USC has been utterly dominate in the NCAA Tournament. USC has some NBA talent that should challenge Gonzaga. Therefore, Gonzaga could be in their closest game of the tournament. Gonzaga has won every game comfortably, but with USC’s recent level of play this should change.
USC has a shot at beating Gonzaga if the Mobley brothers and Eaddy have fantastic games. Also, the Trojans will need another lockdown defensive performance. In the end, Gonzaga will always be the favorite in this tournament. Any Gonzaga loss this year will be considered a major upset regardless of the opponent. The game tips Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. on TBS.
Prediction: 72-65 Gonzaga
All stats courtesy of ESPN and Team Rankings.