The inevitable trilogy comes to fruition in the WCC Championship as the nation witnesses Gonzaga Vs. Saint Mary’s tonight on primetime television. They split the regular season series with both winning a game apiece, now looking to one up the other to improve their seeding. Markets lean towards Gonzaga, opening them as a -3 favorite. Because of their hyper efficient offense, my prediction is that the Bulldogs cruise to victory in this one.
Gonzaga Vs. Saint Mary’s Prediction
Speaking of Gonzaga’s efficiency, they were as good as it gets as they finished the season number one in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency per Kenpom. Running as one of the faster units with a 40th ranked Adjusted Tempo, Gonzaga looks to push the pace and put up points in a hurry. Whether from the interior, or three-point line, the Zags have no shortage of weapons to keep up the scoring onslaught.
As in years past, the offense runs through star big man Drew Timme who is having himself another spectacular year. Averaging 21.1 points per game, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.2 assists, the offense lives and dies through Timme’s production. Through Timme, the Zags run an inside-out style approach as it gives them the option to let Timmie cook in the interior or kick it back out to an open shooter at the perimeter.
This is tough for opposing defenses to deal with because Timmie is one of the best low post scorers in the nation with elite footwork and fundamentals. His ability to use fakes and turn on a dime puts defenders in poor positions, getting the open look at the rim or drawing the foul. When Timme gets going, this forces the defense to clamp down and try to negate his looks, leaving other players more open from the perimeter to spot up and shoot or slash through the middle.
I will note that this is easier said than done as Saint Mary’s is no slouch on defense. They finished the season top-5 in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, smothering opposing looks at various levels of the court. Even with an elite defense, they are not without flaws as defending the interior has been a struggle. Per ShotQuality, Saint Mary’s ranks 196th at defending looks at the rim, an area Gonzaga connects at 59% from.
Gonzaga Vs. Saint Mary’s Prediction: Wait on Gonzaga’s spread
Gonzaga Vs. Saint Mary’s Odds
As previously mentioned, oddsmakers leaned towards the Bulldogs to win the trilogy by opening them as a -3 favorite. Bettors believe otherwise, backing the Gaels down to +2.5 as of writing. Because of this early line movement, I will patiently wait to see how low this can go before putting a position on the Bulldogs. Their interior offense is the best in the nation and more than capable of taking advantage of a weak Gaels defensive rim protection for consistent scoring opportunities.
Speaking of scoring opportunities, oddsmakers believe points will be scored at a moderate pace as they opened the number at 138.5. Bettors have yet to take a firm stand on either side of the total, keeping the number the same as the opener. This is tough to gauge as Saint Mary’s pace plays under friendly, yet they get ample opportunity for scoring success against an uncharacteristically weak Gonzaga defense. Because of the wild variance, I have no interest in the total.
Gonzaga Vs. Saint Mary’s Key Matchups
Gonzaga scoring tempo Vs. Gaels slashing offense
A concern for our Bulldogs tickets is that they have fielded a weak defense throughout the course of the season for an elite unit with championship aspirations. They finished the season 89th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Especially against slashing units, ranking 282nd in defensive completion percentage near the rim. This is in large part due to being a smaller unit and lacking a true big man to anchor the paint.
Saint Mary’s runs as a fairly small unit with four guards rounding out the top five leading scorers in points per game. They do have a true big man in Mitchell Saxton, standing at 6’10” and averaging 11.8 points per game.
Limiting the Gaels offense will be a tough task, but the Gaels slow pace is their own worst enemy should the Zags get out in a hurry. The Zags scoring output overshadows their defensive issues, forcing the Gaels into an uncomfortable position to match the scoring pace and limit their quality of possession. A major reason why I believe they cover the spread in my Gonzaga Vs. Saint Mary’s prediction.
With early money hitting the Gaels, I will wait to see how low it can go before putting a position on the Bulldogs.