No. 21 Gonzaga Bulldogs (17-5), -4 @ St. Mary’s Gaels (17-5), +4, McKeon Pavilion, Moraga, California, Thursday, 11 p.m. Eastern
By Oracle of Predictem.com
Of all the clichs that can be snatched from the depths of the abyss, the habitually reverberated, “The mark of a good team isn’t how respond to a big win, but how they respond from a loss,” is the one that stands out when Gonzaga travels to St. Mary’s in a huge West Coast Conference game on Thursday night.
Both the Bulldogs and the Gaels had weekends to forget. The Zags, who are always tough in Spokane, were thoroughly handled by a balanced Memphis squad, 68-50, at home this past weekend. The 50 points were a season low for a team averaging 77.6 points per contest.
As for St. Mary’s, they fell at the hands of a Santa Clara team that is just .500 overall on the year and fifth in the WCC. The Gaels are mired in a dreadful slump, losing three of their last four games all conference tilts after starting the year a blazing 17-1. The loss also gave Gonzaga plenty of breathing room atop the conference standings.
Heading into Thursday’s showdown that starts at 11 p.m. Eastern, online gambling sites have opened with the Zags a clear favorite -4.
It’s an interesting opening line only considering Gonzaga has struggled on the road against St. Mary’s in the recent past. In fact, just last season the Zags were downed in overtime at McKeon Pavilion, 89-85.
The home team in this underappreciated rivalry has not only won the past six contests straight up, but is also 4-1 ATS.
However, and this is a big however, the reason for St. Mary’s latest slump has a blatant reality behind it.
Patrick Mills is one of the best-kept secrets in the NCAA college basketball scene. The star sophomore for the Gaels was having a huge year, averaging nearly 19 points per game and four assists.
Mills has been a pain in Gonzaga’s backside since his freshman year. In three career games against the Bulldogs, Mills is averaging 20.3 points, including 23 in the overtime win last season.
Mills was on his way to another stellar performance against their WCC rivals just two weeks ago. However, after scoring 18 points in the first 17 minutes, his season most likely came to an abrupt end after fracturing his hand.
Since his departure, St. Mary’s has averaged just 60 points while giving up over 74.
Combined with the Gaels’ struggles on offense and the fact the Gonzaga is the best in the nation by holding teams to 36.7% field goals, this could turn out to be a low scoring affair.
Even though the Zags had a rough go of it against Memphis, they won nine straight games before the defeat, including wins at Tennessee and at home against this same St. Mary’s squad.
Gonzaga is an experienced squad with a balanced attack, as Josh Heytvelt (14.2 points) leads four Bulldogs in double figures.
The Gaels are undefeated straight up at home this year and are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games at home against teams with a winning percentage of .600 or better.
With the loss last weekend against Santa Clara, St. Mary’s failed to cover the spread. However, the trend that bettors may like here is the fact they’ve bounced back nicely with a 4-0 mark ATS after failing to cover their previous game.
But to counter that, Gonzaga is 4-1 ATS after failing to cover a spread, so something has to give in this one.
It’ll be tough for the Gaels to stay with the Bulldogs without their leading scorer. On the other hand, the Zags know it’s never an easy task when they have to travel to McKeon Pavilion to take on their WCC rivals.
Oracle’s Pick: Any other day St. Mary’s would be a nice pick here. However, without Mills, the Gaels just haven’t been the same squad. Look for the Bulldogs to pull away in the second half and cover!