Xavier making news for Puerto Rico champions

Xavier (24-13, Big East Conference) became the first reigning Tire Pros Puerto Rico Tip-Off (PRTO) champion to advance to the NCAA “Elite Eight” after the 11th-seeded Musketeers scored a 73-71 win over Arizona in the West Regional Thursday in San Jose, Calif.

Prior to Xavier’s advancement Thursday by upsetting the Wildcats, the Musketeers were one of three schools that won previous Puerto Rico events in the fall and advanced to the NCAA “Sweet 16” in the spring. With Sean Miller coaching Xavier during the 2008-2009, the Musketeers earned a “Sweet 16” spot in the 2009 NCAA tournament. West Virginia (2014 PRTO winner) and Miami (2015) duplicated the feat in the 2015 and 2016 NCAAs, respectively.

After defeating Missouri (83-82 in overtime), Clemson (83-77) and Northern Iowa (67-59) this past November when the Tire Pros event was staged HP Field House at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla., Xavier challenges top-seeded Gonzaga (35-1) Saturday for the West Regional title and a spot in the “final four” next week in Glendale, Ariz., opposite the East Regional champion.

The Xavier/Gonzaga matchup pits two schools that won in-season tournaments coordinated by ESPN Events on back-to-back weekends at the HP Field House at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort.

A week after Xavier’s victory over Northern Iowa at the HP Field House, Gonzaga scored a 73-71 win over Iowa State to win the AdvoCare Invitational. The Bulldogs also defeated Quinnipiac (82-62) and Florida (77-72) to win their third in-season tournament title (2008, 2012) at the HP Field House.

Xavier and Gonzaga will be meeting for the fifth-time with the Bulldogs winning three of the previous four games, including a 79-75 victory in a 2006 NCAA West Regional contest in Salt Lake City. The two schools played in a home-and-home series in 2010 (Spokane, 64-54) and 2011 (Cincinnati, 72-65) with Gonzaga winning both games.

South Carolina (Southeastern Conference, 24-10), a scheduled 2017 Tire Pros Puerto Rico Tip-Off participant, will be seeking a spot in the “Elite Eight” berth as the Gamecocks will challenge third-seeded Baylor (27-7) Friday at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The Gamecocks advanced to the NCAA “Sweet 16) with wins last weekend in Greenville, S.C., over 10th-seeded Marquette (93-73) and second-seeded Duke (88-81). It has been 44 seasons since South Carolina has won two games in the NCAA tournament.

Two other scheduled 2017 Tire Pros Puerto Rico Tip-Off participants competed in the 2017 NCAAs, including Florida State (Atlantic Coast, 26-9) and Iowa State (Big 12, 24-11). Boise State (Mountain West Conference, 20-12) and Illinois State (Missouri Valley, 28-7) played in the 2017 NIT. With five schools posting 20 or more wins this season, the combined record for the eight teams was 168-99 (62.9 percent).

The 2017 Tire Pros Puerto Rico Tip-Off is scheduled for November 16, 17 and 19 in San Juan. Other schools competing in the three-day, 12-game bracketed in-season tournament will be Tulsa (American Athletic, 15-17), UTEP (Conference USA, 15-17) and Western Michigan (Mid-American, 16-16).