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NCAA Tournament Second Round preview: No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. No. 3 Utah Utes

It took an "upset" from Gonzaga to set up what is probably this year's most evenly matched game between distant seeds.

Gonzaga's Domantas Sabonis (11) and Eric McClellan (23) will try to stop the Runnin Utes on Saturday.
Gonzaga's Domantas Sabonis (11) and Eric McClellan (23) will try to stop the Runnin Utes on Saturday.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

A seven footer from Austria leads one team and a 6-foot-11 center from Lithuania leads the other. It's an international, made-for-March match-up.

As soon as Gonzaga's victory over Seton Hall in the first round was assured all focus shifted to the match up of Gonzaga's Domantas Sabonis (17.5 ppg, 11.7 rpg) and Utah's Jakob Poeltl (17.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg). The two highly skilled big men have dominated their conferences and were named to their respective all-conference first teams. Their presence has helped their teams develop two of the best two point shooting offenses in the nation.

Utah ranks 7th this season having connected on 56% of its shots inside the arc while Gonzaga is 16th at 54.4%.

These teams are more than just two great big men. Gonzaga has developed into one of the best defenses in the nation, and that defense starts on the perimeter. West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year Eric McClellan (10.5 ppg) and company hold opponents to 29.9% from deep — that's the fifth best mark nationally and the best among still-active NCAA Tournament teams. Everybody seemed to give Denver's thin air credit for stopping Seton Hall in the first round. Gonzaga's guards deserve the lion's share of that credit.

Then there's leading scorer Kyle Wiltjer (20.5 ppg) who can beat you inside and out.

Utah also brings a stout, though not as strong, defense into the match. The Runnin' Utes are especially adept at not fouling. Their opponents have attempted the lowest ratio of free throws to field goals of any team in the country.

Utah's secondary options behind Poeltl are Jordan Loveridge (11.9 ppg), Kyle Kuzma (10.6 ppg) and Lorenzo Bonam (10.1 ppg). Of those three Loveridge is the shooter, as the 6-foot-6 junior has hit 90 threes this season and is connecting on over 40% of his shots from long range.

Offensively Gonzaga's backcourt, namely freshman point guard Josh Perkins (10.2 ppg, 4.1 apg) and sophomore sixth man Silas Melson (6.8 ppg), have grown into their role since a disappointing start to the season.

As far as tempo goes these teams are both on the slower end of things, but not by much.

Are you starting to notice something here? These are very similar teams. Each has dominant bigs, each has strong guard play, each plays at a controlled pace and with ruthless efficiency. Gonzaga jumped ahead of Utah in KenPom's rankings after the first round, so the quality discrepancy isn't as much as the seeding would lead you to believe.

Utah is another overvalued Pac-12 team, seeded too high because of RPI. Gonzaga's résumé was less than ideal, but like Wichita State, unrepresentative. What we have are two teams that have, over the course of the season, built probably the most evenly matched 11 vs. 3 game ever.