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  • Previewing the two Elite Eight matchups on Saturday: No. 1 seed Gonzaga vs. No. 11 seed Xavier and No. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 3 seed Oregon.
By Michael Beller
March 25, 2017

This season’s first session of Elite Eight games includes two schools that have never made the Final Four, one that hasn’t been there since 1939 and one that considers the promised land its birthright. The first matchup pits a No. 1 seed trying to end a 20-year odyssey against this tournament’s lone upstart. The second features two Power 5 regular season champions, one of which is the favorite to cut down the nets in Phoenix. The best consecutive days of the college basketball season begin now.

6:09 p.m., TBS
West Region: No. 1 seed Gonzaga vs. No. 11 seed Xavier

One thing is for certain. There will be a first-time Final Four participant this year. Neither Gonzaga nor Xavier has ever been on college basketball’s grandest stage, so the winner will chart a new course for its school. Xavier has turned into this year’s Cinderella, riding Trevon Bluiett’s hot hand to the regional finals. Remember, it was just two weeks ago that the Musketeers needed to beat DePaul to feel good about their chances of making the NCAA tournament. Now, having left Maryland, Florida State and Arizona in its wake, Xavier is on the doorstep of the program’s first ever Final Four. Gonzaga, meanwhile, has had this end realistically in sight all season. Most close observers of the program said this was the best team Mark Few had ever fielded in Spokane, and that’s proven true. The Bulldogs bring their top-rated defense according to kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency against a team that has three kenpom.com top-25 wins going back to the Big East tournament. Gonzaga is certainly the favorite, but Xavier is no longer an underdog.

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8:49 p.m., TBS
Midwest Region: No. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 3 seed Oregon

Is there any team in the country that can possibly slow down Frank Mason, Josh Jackson and Devonte’ Graham? The Jayhawks have scored at least 90 points in all three of their tournament games, most recently putting up 98 in a 32-point thrashing of Purdue in the Sweet 16. If Oregon is going to reach the program’s first Final Four since 1939, it will have to keep the game at its pace. The Ducks rank 234th in adjusted tempo, and force their opponents into the 325th-longest average possession length. Kansas, of course, is one of the fastest teams in the country, playing at a tempo that ranks 65th among all Division I teams. As good as Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey are, Oregon simply doesn’t have the athletes or overall team speed to hang with Kansas. It’s likely no team in the country does. If Kansas can speed up Oregon like it did Purdue, it will get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2012. If Oregon can keep the game at its preferred tempo, it will have a good shot at pulling the upset.

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