Saint Mary’s vs. Gonzaga NCAA Basketball Preview

Drew Timme #2 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs reacts after drawing a foul. William Mancebo/Getty Images/AFP
Drew Timme #2 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs reacts after drawing a foul. William Mancebo/Getty Images/AFP

Barring any late schedule changes, the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs have just two games remaining to complete an unbeaten regular season. The first of those is part of Thursday’s sports betting slate with a rivalry clash against the Saint Mary’s Gaels.

Saint Mary’s Gaels vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs

at McCarthey Athletic Center


Critics always like to pick apart Mark Few and Gonzaga, and this crazy, virus-ridden season is no exception. Still, it has been a remarkable run for the Bulldogs as they enter tonight on a 20-win run, the closest of those, way back on December 2 in a 5-point, neutral site triumph over a West Virginia team that is projected as a 3-seed. It goes without saying that for Randy Bennett and the Gaels, an upset would be a huge feather in Saint Mary’s cap.

Road Teams Have Covered 11 of Last 16 Meetings

And it would be a huge upset at that. Bet365 is carrying Gonzaga on a -20 line with 143½ for the scoreboard bettors to decide on. It’s the seventh time in their last 10 games the Bulldogs have been favored by 20+, but ESPN still finds the rivalry aspect of the matchup worthy of a prime-time slot.

Gonzaga was favored by 16 at online sportsbooks nearly five weeks ago when the squads got it on in Moraga, and couldn’t quite cover that number in a 73-59 final. Saint Mary’s hung with Gonzaga early, even building a 10-point lead about 11 minutes into the first half. A 17-3 run by the Bulldogs to close the first half and begin the second put them in charge, and the Gaels couldn’t really mount much of a threat after that.

That January win gave Gonzaga a 74-31 advantage in the series, marking the Bulldogs’ fourth consecutive win and 19th in the last 23 encounter. It would be foolish to think this is the last time we’ll see Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s cross paths since they’ve met in 10 of the past 12 West Coast Conference Tournaments. Last season’s matchup in Spokane was an 84-66 win and cover for the Bulldogs as 8-point chalk. The January meeting at the old McKeon Pavilion stayed ‘under’ a 146½-point total, ending a run of 4-straight ‘over’ winners in the rivalry.

Despite Poor Season, Gaels Still Tough on Defense

Saint Mary’s may have lost the previous meeting with Gonzaga, but the Gaels accomplished two things – besides covering the NCAA basketball odds – that no team has done against the Bulldogs. It was the only time Gonzaga was held under 75 points this season, which isn’t a fluke for the Gaels who rank 23rd in the country allowing 61.8 PPG. Think about that: The Gaels held

the Bulldogs to 29 fewer points than Kansas did, 14 less than West Virginia, 26 fewer than Iowa, 27 below what Virginia did. The 11-point lead in the first half was also the biggest deficit Gonzaga has faced this season.

It’s on the offensive end that we find the Gaels lacking. Okay, more like sucking instead of just lacking. You have to go back to mid-December to find the last time they broke the 70-point barrier, and it’s not like we can blame last weekend’s 60-58 loss at Pepperdine on the 3-week pause the program went through since that’s only a point below what Saint Mary’s has been averaging in WCC action.

‘Under’ Cashes 5 of Zags’ Last 6 Home Affairs Having seen great offensive college teams for 50+ years, this year’s Gonzaga edition just might be the best. It’s certainly the deepest and the most efficient in terms of being able to score from all over the court. The last time a team averaged 90+ points per game was the 2008-09 VMI group playing in the Big South, recording a 90.2 average against 26 D-1 opponents. Gonzaga is sitting on 93-flat through 20 games this year.

The Bulldogs will be playing their first game at home since January 3, the club splitting against the and while it’s not the same as when fans are actually packed into the MAC, it will be special for seniors Corey Kispert and Aaron Cook who will be facing the Gaels for the final time on their court. Cook’s the guy who has seen his minutes reduced with freshman one-&-done Jalen Suggs coming aboard, and I’m expecting Few to give his 5th-year guard some extra minutes these next two games.

Few should be able to really empty his bench this weekend against San Diego, and run his Magnificent 7 rotation longer in this one. It could end up 93-58, or 70-65. Either way, it’s hard to see where they points will come from on Saint Mary’s side, leading to a free college basketball pick on the final falling short of the total.

NCAAB Pick: Under 143½ (-110) at Bet365