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Fast Breaks: (2) Gonzaga vs. (11) UCLA preview
1:14 | College Basketball
Fast Breaks: (2) Gonzaga vs. (11) UCLA preview
Will Green and Brendan Prunty
Monday March 23rd, 2015

You may not have watched every game of the NCAA tournament, but don’t worry: We did. We’ll tell you how each team got to the Sweet 16 and why they will or won’t make the Final Four. You can also read about the EastMidwest and West regions.

No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 11 UCLA

Thursday, 7:15 p.m. on CBS

Gonzaga Bulldogs

How they got here: Edged No. 15 North Dakota State 86-76 before routing No. 7 Iowa 87-68.

Why they will make the Final Four:

Gonzaga has two luxuries that will key its Final Four run—the country’s fifth most efficient offense and extensive depth. If prolific scorer Kyle Wiltjer gets in trouble, the Zags can lean on senior guard and West Coast Conference Player of the Year Kevin Pangos. If Pangos is off, USC-transfer Byron Wesley can drive to the hoop and create shots. And if Wesley is off, 6"10" Domantas Sabonis, who makes 67% from the floor, or 7'1" battery mate Przemek Karnowski can intimidate any frontcourt this side of Kentucky's. Of their remaining roadblocks, neither Duke nor UCLA specialize in defense, and Gonzaga’s pace is faster than any of the teams standing between it and Indianapolis. If the Bulldogs are making shots the same way they have all year—at 52.6%, they have the nation's highest field goal percentage, and they also make 41% from three-point range—they will finally make it to the Final Four.

Why they won’t make the Final Four:

Gonzaga has been in this situation before as a favored seed and still hasn't broken through to the Final Four. In 2004, as a two-seed, the Zags were upset by Nevada in the Round of 32. The next year, as a three, they lost to Texas Tech. In '06 they were a two-seed again, but lost to UCLA, squandering a double-digit lead in the second half and losing on a last-second turnover. And, most notably, as a 1-seed in 2013, Gonzaga couldn’t get past Wichita State in the Round of 32. Overall, the Bulldogs are 0-8 in their last eight tournament games against top-four seeds, and it would likely have to beat one in Duke to reach Indianapolis.

Will Green

Kevin Pangos
Kevin Pangos
John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated

UCLA Bruins

How they got here: Upset No. 6 SMU 60-59 in a controversial finish, then dominated inside to beat No. 14 Alabama-Birmingham 92-75.

Why they will make the Final Four:

UCLA has an underrated interior presence and can also get in to the interior. Guards Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton ​and Norman Powell can hit big shots but also key the offense by penetrating opposing defenses and pulling defenders off big men Kevon Looney and Tony Parker. Looney has rebounded well in the tournament so far, grabbing 21 boards in his first two games. The Bruins have shot 52.4% in the tournament overall and 51.7% from three. If they continue to shoot like that it will be almost impossible to beat. No matter which opposing big man it faces—Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski or Utah’s twin seven-footers, Dallin Bachynski and Jakob Poetl—UCLA will be able to rely on the nation’s 11th best effective height and play even more forcefully inside.

Why they won’t make the Final Four:

Many believed the Bruins didn’t belong in the tournament to begin with. And while they proved they can handle the Alabama-Birminghams and the SMUs of the tournament field, Duke, Gonzaga and Utah pose a far stiffer challenge; those three rank sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively, on kenpom.com. In fact, UCLA only has two wins against kenpom.com top 25 teams all year, and one of them came in the Round of 64 against SMU thanks in large part to a questionable last-second goaltending call. The Bruins are a young team and, with an adjusted defensive efficiency that ranks just 68th in the nation, one of the worst teams left in the tournament on that side of the ball. Each of the three remaining teams in the South boast a top-15 offense, and the Utes and the Zags have already beaten UCLA this season.

— Will Green

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 5 Utah

Thursday, approx. 9:35 p.m. on CBS

1:50 | College Basketball
Fast Breaks: (1) Duke vs. (5) Utah preview

Duke Blue Devils

How they got here: Destroyed No. 16 seed Robert Morris, 85-56, and jumped all over No. 8 San Diego State early in a 68-49 win.

Why they'll make the Final Four: Did you see Jahlil Okafor against San Diego State? He put on an offensive clinic around the basket against one of the best defensive teams in the country, finishing with 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting from the floor. Combine that with the shooting of senior guard Quinn Cook (9-for-18 from outside in the tournament), the ballhandling of freshman Tyus Jones (13 assists and only three turnovers in the two games) and the all-around excellence of freshman forward Justise Winslow (19 points, 23 rebounds, four steals and four blocks in the tournament so far) and opponents are going to have to decide how they want to get beat. They can double-down on Okafor and hope his teammates miss shots or let Okafor get his, while trying to defend Duke's perimeter shooters.

Why they won't make the Final Four: After beating the Aztecs on Sunday, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said that his team isn't tired, which is good, because right now he's essentially relying on a five-man rotation. Center Marshall Plumlee, forward Amile Jefferson and guard Grayson Allen are his only scholarship options off the bench, but they combined for only 25 minutes against San Diego State and could see even less time as the competition level rises. While each of those players were McDonald's All-Americans, they nonetheless represent a notable drop off from the talent in the starting lineup. There's no consistent scoring threat in that group, so if one of the four big starters mentioned above (the fifth, sophomore Matt Jones, averages under six points per game) isn't producing, it's hard to see where the extra points will come from. It's also worth wondering if Duke's youth will be an issue at some point. Going up against veteran teams in a pressure spot might be an eye-opening experience for the Blue Devils' trio of freshmen stars.

— Brendan Prunty

Quinn Cook
Quinn Cook
Chris Keane/Sports Illustrated

Utah Utes

How they got here: Held off No. 12 Stephen F. Austin, 57-50, then breezed past No. 4 Georgetown, 75-64.

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Sweet 16 trip validates Utah's rebuilding effort under Krystkowiak

Why they'll make the Final Four: Delon Wright is the catalyst for Utah, but this squad is about more than just its All-America guard. Take a look at the box score from the Utes' convincing win over Georgetown. Wright had 12 points, but four of his teammates also scored in double-figures, with no Utah player scoring more than 14. That should give the Utes confidence that they can win even when their best player isn't carrying the load. But if Utah does need Wright to shoulder that responsibility, he's fully capable of doing so. He plays the most minutes (33.2 per game) and has taken the most shots (304) but is still the best shooter, at 52.3%, and accounts for 20 percent of the Utes' scoring this season. 

Why they won't make the Final Four: The concern for Utah is whether or not they can rebound enough to advance. Board work is not this team's strength, as it averages only 34.9 per game and was out-rebounded in each of its first two tournament games. Granted, the overall margins weren't massive— against Stephen F. Austin, 29-26, and against Georgetown, 27-2—but the Utes have given up 21 offensive rebounds and gotten only eight themselves. Seven-foot freshman center Jakob Poeltl is the Utah's learning rebounder at 6.9 a game, but after that Wright is the best guy on the glass, at 4.9 a game. 

— Brendan Prunty

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