No. 3 BYU Cougars (23-9, 13-5) vs. No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs (24-7, 15-3)
When: Monday, March 7 at 8:30 p.m. Pacific
Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
In 2014 and 2015 these two teams met in the WCC Tournament Championship Game. This time around we get the match up a day early.
Gonzaga and BYU both advanced through the quarterfinals with relative ease compared to the other two semifinalists, Saint Mary's and Pepperdine. That will likely not be the case for whichever of these two squads advances out of Monday's game. In the regular season Gonzaga and BYU split their series, with each team winning on the other's court.
Both games were one possession at the final buzzer and decided by a combined four points.
The Cougars have yet to defeat Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament (0-3) and have yet to win a WCC title. They'll need to do that if they want to make a third straight NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga might not, but probably should if they want to make it 18 straight trips to the Big Dance.
These teams score points. A lot of points. BYU averages 83.6 points per game while Gonzaga averages slightly less at 79.3. But, they do it in vastly different ways.
As they have for years now, the Cougars play extremely up-tempo basketball and shoot a ton of threes. Senior Chase Fischer (18 ppg), an all-WCC First Team selection, does work behind the three point line. He's played just two seasons with BYU (previously plying his trade at Wake Forest) but has made the fifth most three pointers in BYU history (198). His two seasons rank second and third behind only Jimmer Fredette's senior year. He holds the program's single game record with 10, a record he shares with freshman Nick Emery (15.8 ppg).
Emery holds the BYU freshman record with 82 made three pointers. In second is classmate Zac Seljaas (7.2 ppg) who has made 56.
Those shooters have Kyle Collinsworth (15.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 7.4 apg) to thank for a lot of their open looks. The 6-foot-6 senior point guard is the NCAA career triple-double leader with 11.
Even with the masterful play of Collinsworth those shooters will have a hard time against Gonzaga, which boasts the nation's third best three point percentage defense by holding opponents to a measly 29.2% from distance. That defensive attack is spearheaded by WCC Defensive Player of the Year, senior guard Eric McClellan (10.1 ppg).
While Gonzaga's defense starts with the guards the offense starts with the big men.
Kyle Wiltjer (20.5 points) and Domantas Sabonis (17.5 ppg, 11.6 rpg) form perhaps the best starting frontcourt in the nation. Coming into the year there was no doubt that Gonzaga had the best frontcourt in the nation, but staring center Przemek Karnowski went down for the season in December, which forced Sabonis into the starting five and reserve Ryan Edwards into the rotation.
In Saturday's quarterfinal against Portland Edwards suffered a knee injury and did not play, or even sit on the bench in the second half.
So, what separates these two teams? Both have exceptionally potent offenses, so potent that their stylistic differences don't really matter. It's a wash on that end of the court. Gonzaga holds a significant edge defensively and BYU holds a significant edge in terms of depth, and that was even before the injury to Edwards.
If Edwards can't play Gonzaga, which began the season with the seventh tallest average roster height in the nation per KenPom, has two true bigs. The third biggest guy on the active roster is 6-foot-6, 202 lbs guard Kyle Dranginis (6.3 ppg, 3.3 apg).