NCAAB Picks: Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Saint Mary’s Gaels
Gonzaga Bulldogs (24-1 SU, 13-12 ATS) vs. Saint Mary’s Gaels (20-5 SU, 12-12 ATS)
When: Saturday, February 8, 10 p.m.
Where: McKeon Pavilion, Moraga, Calif.
Point Spread: GONZ -6/SMC +6 (GTBets)
Total: O/U 150
Last Time Out:
Gonzaga beat Loyola Marymount 85-67; Saint Mary’s handled San Diego 66-60.
Scouting the Bulldogs:
No Killian Tillie has been a difficult thing for Gonzaga to overcome, but the Bulldogs have done it well in the past two games because Drew Timme showed that he was ready for the moment, scoring 17 points in Tillie’s absence in the win over Loyola Marymount. Tillie has been hampered by an injured ankle and will be a game-time decision against Saint Mary’s after taking part in the shootaround on Thursday before facing Loyola Marymount.
If he’s able to play, it gives Gonzaga a strong presence in the paint to match the shooting of guard Filip Petrusev. If Tillie is out, Gonzaga can get by without him but might have a tougher time dealing with Malik Fitts, Saint Mary’s 6-foot-8 forward who does the majority of his team’s rebounding. Timme will likely once again be expected to step up and get the job done.
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Scouting the Gaels:
While Gonzaga is built to get the job done down low, Saint Mary’s sends its offense through the perimeter in the person of Jordan Ford. Ford was instrumental in leading the Gaels past Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament last year, which allowed Saint Mary’s to steal a bid to the NCAA tournament. The Gaels don’t look like they’ll need to do things the hard way this time around, as Ford is averaging just over 21 points a game and has gotten some help from the likes of Fitts and Tanner Krebs, the only other Saint Mary’s players to average double digits from the field.
However, high scoring isn’t really what Saint Mary’s is known for under Randy Bennett. Instead, the Gaels win by limiting the total number of possessions with a slow pace and maximizing the efficiency of each possession by being sure to get a good shot each trip down the court. The strategy worked to perfection against Gonzaga last year, and the odds are that the Gaels will try it again this time.
The pressure. A team in this situation is going to feel intense pressure to perform from here on out because Gonzaga is going to get every team’s best shot. The Bulldogs have established themselves as one of the strongest teams in the nation, and this is where that has the potential to become a liability if the Bulldogs allow it to happen. Gonzaga has been here before and faced down the arrows that come with being one of the top five teams in the nation, but never before have they come in a season as unpredictable as this one has been. Nor have the Bulldogs faced them in a situation where they were being pushed by the likes of San Diego State for a top seed. Are these Bulldogs strong enough to handle the pressure?
Gonzaga will Cover if:
The Bulldogs are able to pound away inside. With Tillie, it’s difficult to see how the Gaels can stand up to Gonzaga’s size. Fitts is the only real obstacle that the Gaels can present to the Bulldogs’ interior, and he gives away a few inches to Gonzaga’s interior players. Gonzaga is already a great rebounding team, and Saint Mary’s isn’t, which could allow the Bulldogs to keep attacking the glass and create their own chances.
Saint Mary’s will Cover if:
The Gaels can slow the game down and frustrate the Bulldogs. Teams don’t really try to play a slowdown style against Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference, as seven of the ten squads rank in the top 150 in terms of speed. The exceptions are Pacific, Loyola Marymount and Saint Mary’s. While Gonzaga had no problems with the Tigers or Lions, neither of those teams can play defense of Saint Mary’s quality or maximize their efficiency on the offensive end. The Gaels can do those things, and it makes an upset a real possibility.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
This upset could definitely happen, especially if there’s no Killian Tillie to worry about. But Gonzaga seems pretty poised to make sure that the upset doesn’t occur after what happened the last time these teams met, and a locked-in Gonzaga is a terrifying prospect. I don’t expect Saint Mary’s to get overwhelmed the way Pacific did, but I don’t expect them to hang with the Bulldogs either.
And really, that’s OK with Randy Bennett, because the more important win is the conference tournament next month, where the winner gets an automatic bid that likely won’t be needed. This game is still pretty important, but with Gonzaga already well in control of the WCC, this doesn’t seem to be the time where the Bulldogs get caught looking ahead. Give me the Bulldogs to cover the small number against a team they want to even the score with.
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