SALT LAKE CITY — There's no looking past Thursday's game for Northwestern.
But should the Wildcats take down Vanderbilt, it will be top-seeded Gonzaga waiting Saturday in the second round.
Despite a sluggish start, Gonzaga beat 16th-seeded South Dakota State on Thursday afternoon, advancing to the Round of 32 with a 66-46 win.
Early on it looked like the Zags were in danger of becoming the first No. 1 seed ever to fall to a No. 16 seed. The Bulldogs shot a woeful 31 percent from the field in the first half and led by just four at halftime after trailing for much of the opening 20 minutes. But they blew past the Jackrabbits after halftime, holding the No. 16 seed to 29-percent shooting after halftime and shooting nearly 50-percent themselves over the final 20 minutes. Gonzaga hit six 3-pointers after halftime and outscored South Dakota State 40-24.
That sets up a potential showdown with a No. 1 seed in the second round for the Cats, and history, unsurprisingly, is on the side of the No. 1 seed in those matchups.
Just 17 times ever has a No. 1 seed lost to the winner of the 8-9 game, with 12 of those upset wins belonging to the No. 8 seed, which Northwestern is.
The Cats will be working against other historical trends, including the fact that since 1985, only three teams playing in their first NCAA tournament have reached the Sweet Sixteen. However, that's largely due to the fact that first-timers don't get very high seeds and are placed in unfavorable matchups to begin with. Teams playing in their first NCAA tournament with a No. 10 seed or better are 4-3 in their first-round games.
First, though, it's the first round for Northwestern and Thursday afternoon's meeting with Vanderbilt.