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Sweet 16 preview: 11 UCLA vs. 2 Gonzaga

The Zags are eying their first trip to the Elite Eight since the 1999 run that catapulted them onto the national radar. A familiar foe stands in their path, again, looking for revenge.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

2015 NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen
2 Gonzaga 34-2 vs. 11 UCLA 21-13
Friday, March 27, 4:15 p.m. Pacific
NRG Stadium, Houston

March 23, 2006: UCLA 73, Gonzaga 71. December 13, 2014: Gonzaga 87, UCLA 74.

Gonzaga looks to avenge a Sweet Sixteen loss to the Bruins from nine years ago while UCLA hopes to take down the only team to defeat them on their home court this season. This is a double-rematch made especially for March.

The two seed Gonzaga Bulldogs knocked out North Dakota State and Iowa in Seattle to advance to the second weekend for the first time since 2009. Their next opponent is one that back on selection Sunday was the team to cause an uproar simply by being in the field of 68. The 11 seed UCLA Bruins are now in the round of 16 thanks to a controversial win over SMU followed by a complete dismantling of UAB — a 92-75 victory in which the Bruins posted an offensive rating of 136.7, their third highest of the season.

Only against dismal Montana State and Nicholls State squads (319 and 326th in KenPom, respectively) have the Bruins posted better offensive ratings.

So we've got a deep team in Gonzaga that has been red hot all season long, scoring a third-best in the nation 1.185 points per possession, against a peaking at the right time UCLA squad riding the emergence of a key post player in Tony Parker.

Unfortunately for the new-look Bruins, they match up even worse now than they did before.

To go out in the round of 32 and drop 1.367 points per possession is very impressive. It's part of the reason why this 11 seed isn't exactly making a Cinderella-level splash in the Sweet Sixteen (aside from the fact that they're UCLA and UCLA has more national titles than any other school).

The Bruins have been playing their best, most efficient basketball down the stretch of the season. It's why they're in the tournament. That's what everybody has and will be saying and writing in the lead-up to this game. Even Scott Barnes, chair of the selection committee, spoke of their recent performance while defending their inclusion in the field.

No stranger to this level of quality are the Zags.

When these two teams met in mid-December UCLA actually played an efficient, balanced game. That game was the first of a five game losing streak during which the Bruins were absolutely atrocious. But, the Zags did have to face the good, albeit not good enough, Bruins. That's likely to be the case once again on Friday.

UCLA scored 1.07 points per possession against Gonzaga. Over the next four games of that losing streak they scored 0.64, 0.72, 0.78 and 0.69 points per possession.

Gonzaga took the kind of punch that UCLA has been throwing lately, at Pauley Pavilion no less, and still won by 13 points.

The Bruins have changed a bit, though. They play at a slower tempo and are more reliant on six-foot-nine junior Tony Parker than they were before. Their increased efficiency and success are a direct result of those two differences.

Gonzaga's lone loss this season to an inferior team came against a BYU Cougars squad which runs as fast as possible and is devoid of a post presence. Or, nearly opposite these new-look Bruins.

The Zags are both slower than the Bruins (according to Ken Pomeroy's adjusted tempo rankings) and exceptionally loaded in the post. They can play at UCLA's pace, and play at UCLA's pace better than UCLA can, and counter Tony Parker's increased productivity with three exceptionally productive bigs in Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis.

Mark Few's squad can eliminate opposing bigs, like they did with Saint Mary's Brad Waldow, with relentless double teams.

Double teaming bigs can allow a perimeter player, like Bryce Alford, to find himself wide open. Once again, the Zags have this covered. Byron Wesley is an excellent defender on the wing — he's also a transfer from USC who is averaging 15.1 points on 50% shooting in eight career games against the Bruins — and he's joined by the WCC defensive player of the year, Gary Bell Jr., on the perimeter.

You might have noticed that five Gonzaga players have been named so far to just two for UCLA. That is for good reason. UCLA isn't a very deep team.

Starters play the overwhelming majority of the minutes for the Bruins. Per KenPom the Bruins starting five has played together for 41.6% of the team's minutes over the past five games. Gonzaga, on the other hand, has its starting five together on the floor for just 18.7% of the minutes over the same number of games.

UCLA is eight deep, Gonzaga plays ten guys per game.

Simply put, the Bruins are much better than they were in December when they lost to the Zags at home. Will it help them Friday in Houston? Probably not.