The leading scorer for Gonzaga happens to be their freshman point guard Pangos at 14.9 points per game. He's proven to be a knockdown shooter from the outside so far in his young career, and he has a tendency to get on a roll where he'll make several threes in a row if you let him get going. Physically, Holloway has a great matchup with Pangos. The young Canadian guard is a little small, lacks length, needs to get stronger and isn't the best athlete. He has a very high IQ though and isn't going to be forced into a lot of mistakes. That being said, a huge key to Xavier's defense will be Holloway and Lyons really pressuring Gonzaga's freshman guards and keep them from making easy entry passes into the post. Pangos is great for Gonzaga's system because he's unselfish and picks his spots when driving. Xavier has the advantage here with senior All-American Tu Holloway, but they have to exploit it.
Slight Edge Xavier
Bell has kind of worked his way into the starting rotation, because he fills his role really well. He's a good shooter from the outside, and knows how to score in different ways. However, as a freshman on this talented Gonzaga team, he's been content to wait for open looks in transition or when defenses double down in the post. He's capable of having a big game and scoring in double-digits if the opportunity presents itself, but he also may only take a few shots. Defensively, he's strong, and while he's an average athlete, he's nowhere near the type of athlete Lyons is for Xavier. Once again, Lyons has to really get up and pressure Bell. He is much more prone to turnovers and freshman mistakes than his backcourt-mate Pangos. Lyons should be able to use his quickness to cause some problems for the Gonzaga backcourt, which isn't the most athletic.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Dez Wells Fr (6-4, 215) vs Michael Hart Jr (6-6, 206)
Hart isn't a guy who is going to light it up from the outside. He's not a very good shooter, so Wells, or whoever is guarding him at the time, has an opportunity to help off a little bit more and help crowd guys like Sacre and Harris in the post. Hart is a veteran who is fine with not getting shots, and instead is content to crash the offensive glass and play his role as a defender on the other end. Wells has to make sure he blocks Hart out, something he's struggled with so far this year. On the offensive end, Wells has to contain his excitement and nerves of getting back into the mix. It's going to be loud, it's going to be energetic and Wells is going to be anxious to make his presence felt. He's had a great week of practice and refreshed legs after sitting out. If he handles the initial jitters well and stays under control, he could have a big game.
Slight Edge Xavier
Andre Walker Sr (6-8, 225) vs Elias Harris Jr (6-7, 240)
Harris is a tough matchup. He is a good shooter from the outside, but he's really even better at taking other forwards off the dribble and getting to the basket. Fortunately for Xavier, they have much better matchups for him with this year's roster. Andre Walker's strength is his versatility on the defensive end, where he's shown the ability to stick with guards and wings, as well as hold his own in the post. Harris is really skilled, but he's not a soft player that hangs out on the perimeter like many forwards who shoot it well. He is a very good rebounder, and can also score in the post. Xavier doesn't need Walker to score really, but if he can contain Harris, it'd go a long way toward a victory.
Moderate Edge Gonzaga
Sacre, as Coach Mack said Friday, is an "incredibly impressive post player." He doesn't even need many post moves because he's so good at carving out his space and sealing the defender deep under the basket. He does a great job of being physical and using his strength, but he also manages to stay out of foul trouble. Frease has obviously struggled with that this year, and that could be a big key, as Gonzaga will have a major advantage with Sacre on the court and Frease on the bench. Frease has to be taking this matchup personally after Sacre dominated him last year with 22 points, including a 10-of-10 performance from the free-throw line, while Frease failed to score with just three field-goal attempts and zero rebounds. Frease and the rest of Xavier's big men don't have to outscore Sacre and Harris, but their defense has to be the best it's been all year in the post. Playing behind those guys and letting them get deep positioning will result in a long New Year's Eve for the Musketeers.
Moderate Edge Gonzaga
Xavier Bench vs Gonzaga Bench
Gonzaga will go nine players deep in their rotation, with eight players seeing the bulk of the minutes. David Stockton, son of John, is the first guard off the bench and is a guy who gets the most out of his ability. He's very slight in stature, but works his tail off on defense and shoots the ball really well on the offensive end. Like his father, he's also a very good passer. Dower is another big body (6-9, 248) for the Bulldogs that can come in and bang. While he's not quite as good of a scorer as the two starters, he will still seal his defender deep in the lane on their duck in actions. He's also a strong rebounder and defender. Marquise Carter gives them a guard with a little more size to bring off the bench at 6-foot-4, but he's a little bit out of control at times, prone to turnovers and not a very good shooter. He does provide a little more length though on the defensive end where he may be able to help against Xavier's guards. The Musketeers are back at full strength, so they'll have Jeff Robinson, Travis Taylor, Brad Redford, Dee Davis and Justin Martin all seeing time off the bench in this one. Before the suspensions, Robinson had been the odd man out when it came to minutes and even the last game in Hawaii he saw only 12 and 10 minutes against Hawaii and Southern Illinois respectively. Expect Mack to keep getting Davis as many minutes as possible, but with Wells back in the mix, there won't be many times where they go three small guards on the court at the same time like we saw against Southern Illinois. Also, Justin Martin is looking to bounce back after a rough outing against Southern Illinois where he played just seven minutes.
Gonzaga isn't a team that's trying to confuse you or use gimmicks. They will run the same simple things over and over again, until you prove you can stop them on the defensive end. A lot of it centers around their big men ducking in on the block and getting great position. The biggest key to stopping their offense is pressuring the basketball and keeping their big men from eating up position in the post. Xavier has to show major improvement on the defensive end, especially when it comes to being tough and nasty. Very simply, this game is going to come down to a battle of which teams' strength wins out. The Bulldogs want to pound it inside to their bigs where they have an advantage, while Xavier will rely on their backcourt of Holloway and Lyons who will be going up against two freshmen, albeit talented freshman. Foul trouble could also play a major role, as Xavier will need Frease's size in there more than ever against Sacre and Harris. This game could go either way, so Xavier being at home in front of an officially sold-out crowd should give them a slight edge.
Score Prediction: Xavier 65 Gonzaga 63