The Iowa Hawkeyes finished the year 21-11, 12-6 in the Big Ten but finished the season with a bad loss to Penn State. The committee felt that the Hawkeyes did enough to be placed higher than Purdue, Indiana and Ohio State, and slated them as a 7 seed in the South Region. Iowa is matched up with Davidson, a team with a higher rated RPI (35 to 43) and the winners of the Atlantic 10 regular season title.
Davidson is a far smaller team than Iowa, starting four guards alongside a wing/post player at the center position. The Wildcats are led by Tyler Kalinoski, voted A-10 Player of the Year. Kalinoski has scored in double figures in 28 of Davidson's 31 games but is more than just a pure scorer, averaging 5.5 rebounds and 4 assists. Running alongside Kalinoski is sophomore Jack Gibbs, an undersized point guard who averages 16 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds. I expect to see Mike Gesell matched up with Gibbs, but Gesell will have a size advantage at this position.
6'7 freshman Peyton Aldridge will have his hands full with the Hawkeyes frontcourt, and bench players Oskar Michelsen and Andrew McAuliffe will likely see in increase in minutes as well. Jordan Barham and Brian Sullivan round out the rotation, but I still see Iowa's size causing huge problems. The Wildcats love to play up-tempo though, averaging 80 points a game (6th nationally) and just over 17 assists per game (3rd nationally). What the Wildcats lack in size they make up for in playing Bob McKillop's style, and Iowa will have a tough time slowing them down. I expect Iowa to win this game, as Adam Woodbury and Gabriel Olaseni have no one who can match up with them down low, and Aaron White's versatility should have a huge impact on this game.
If Iowa beats Davidson, their reward will likely be #2 Seed Gonzaga. Much has been made about Mark Few's inability to make a deep run in March, but this is arguably the most talented team he's ever had in Spokane. They are led by gritty point guard Kevin Pangos, who plays a downhill style of basketball and makes few mistakes. He is joined in the backcourt by Byron Wesley, a 5th year transfer from USC who can shoot it and attack the basket with reckless abandon, and Gary Bell, Jr., a player who attempts 62% of his shots from beyond the arc.
They have a huge amount of size in the frontcourt, as 6'10 junior Kyle Wiltjer has found his groove this season after transferring from Kentucky. Wiltjer has showed his McDonald's All American level talent at Gonzaga, averaging 16 points on 54% shooting. Gonzaga's final starter is Przemek Karnowski, a 7'1 center from Poland who is one of the few players in the country that can match up with Adam Woodbury.
What makes Gonzaga so great though is the depth they have. Domantas Sabonis will spell both Wiltjer and Karnowski in the frontcourt, providing great defense and rebounding. Sabonis will be a nightmare matchup for both Aaron White and Jared Uthoff, and he has similar size and is arguably quicker. Gonzaga also plays junior Kyle Dranginis for 17 minutes a game, who fills the role in the backcourt perfectly.
Gonzaga has a perfect combination of guard play and size that allows Pangos to find open shooters and easy dumpoffs for layups and dunks. They share the ball extremely well, play suffocating defense, and are all upperclassmen besides for Sabonis. Iowa will need to play their best game of the season if they want to get by Gonzaga, but this game being played in Seattle makes it a virtual home game for Gonzaga. The Hawkeyes will run into a team that plays their style, but just a little bit better, and I think their NCAA Tournament run will ultimately end at the hands of the Bulldogs.