March Madness – (2) Gonzaga vs. (15) N.D. State

(2) Gonzaga Bulldogs (-17.5, 128.5 o/u) vs. (15) North Dakota St. Bison 

After defeating BYU 91-75 last week to win their third consecutive West Coast Conference tournament, the No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs (32-2, 17-1 WCC) are ready for all comers in the NCAA Tournament. Up next for the Bulldogs is a Round of 64 tilt with the (15) North Dakota St Bison (23-9, 12-4 Summit) in Seattle on Friday (6:40 p.m. Eastern).

The Zags are the nation’s best shooting team, hitting on 52.4-percent of their shots from the field. “We … can score with the best of them,” said forward Kyle Wiltjer, who had 18 points and ten boards against BYU and was named WCC tournament MVP.

Gonzaga is a balanced squad that can beat teams in multiple ways, but arguably its strength is its backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., both of whom are four-year starters. The duo came up big, again, against the Cougars with Pangos putting up 16 points and five assists, while Bell added 15 points and routinely frustrated BYU’s leading scorer Tyler Haws on defense (as he’s done his whole Zags career).

“They love each other and just want to keep playing with each other, that’s been the base for this team all year,” said Gonzaga head coach Mark Few about his current squad. “They want to keep winning so they can keep playing with each other.”

North Dakota State, meanwhile, used a big second-half run to down South Dakota State (57-56) last week in the Summit League tournament title game.

“We maybe got a little impatient offensively, but they’re a great team,” North Dakota State coach David Richman said. “It’s a game of runs, and that’s going to happen.”

Lawrence Alexander scored 25 points while A.J. Jacobson added 12 for the Bison, who are back in the tourney for the second consecutive season.

“We wanted this stage,” Richman said. “We knew our backs were going to be against the wall in a hostile environment with a pro-South Dakota State crowd. But [our players] handled so many things down the stretch this year.”

Last year, the Bisons upset Oklahoma in the first round of the tourney as a No. 13 seed. However, that team boasted a supremely talented 6’7″ Taylor Braun. With Braun playing pro this season, another upset for the Bison is far-fetched. But covering the 17.5-point spread looks very doable. Take North Dakota State and the points (+17.5).

(Photo credit: SD Dirk (flickr) []. Photo has been cropped.)

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