Gonzaga looked more vulnerable than usual in non-conference play, but Drew Timme and co, have jumped out to a 3-0 start in WCC play. BYU always gives the ‘Zags a challenge and will be looking to do just that while jolting themselves back onto the NCAA Tournament radar.
Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks and predictions for Thursday night’s matchup in Provo.
Gonzaga vs. BYU Odds
Gonzaga enters as a 6.5-point road favorite, sitting at -260 on the moneyline. The over/under is set at 150.5 points.
That Gonzaga is only a 5.5-point favorite speaks to how shaky they’ve looked this season. There’s no doubt the Bulldogs are a legitimate NCAA Tournament team, but losses to some tough opponents early in the year plus very close contests against San Francisco and Santa Clara this month are a sign a road matchup with BYU could be a challenge.
Gonzaga vs. BYU Prediction & Pick
Gonzaga isn’t the same dominant force as it was the last two seasons, and it’s hard to believe Mark Few’s team will be unbeaten in WCC play. With that being said, I’m not sure BYU is the team best suited to hand them their first loss in the conference.
The Cougars don’t have the kind of defense that can throw Gonzaga off its game, unlike St. Mary’s and San Francisco, and they haven’t shown nearly enough offensive ability to give the impression they can keep up with the Bulldogs.
It’s not impossible for BYU to keep this game close in what promises to be a raucous environment, but Gonzaga and its terrific offense are well-positioned to keep improving after winning two tight games on the road. Gonzaga +5.5 is my pick.
Gonzaga vs. BYU Key Matchups
Things have been different for Gonzaga this season. You likely won’t see them in many people’s Final Four picks, even if they end up with a high seed. So what changed? The Bulldogs still score very well, sitting fifth in the nation with 85.9 points per game. Their 51.8% field goal percentage leads the nation. Instead, it’s the defense that has fallen off.
Opponents shot 38% against Gonzaga last season and now shoot 44%. That’s a drop from third in the nation to 241st. Among other issues, point guard play has not been nearly as strong as it was with Andrew Nembhard or Jalen Suggs. Sophomore Nolan Hickman isn’t as talented as Suggs or as experienced as Nembhard.
Turnover issues plagued Gonzaga early in the season, and while the numbers have improved, they could emerge again against tougher teams like BYU and Saint Mary’s.
Luckily for Gonzaga, BYU’s offense isn’t going to torch defenses on most nights. The Cougars don’t have a brutal offense, but they average 74.5 points per game and shoot less than 33% from beyond the arc. Like Gonzaga, BYU has run into turnover issues.
What BYU does have is rebounding ability depth. The Cougars don’t necessarily have intimidating size, but they can compete with Drew Timme and Julian Strawther on the boards. Offensively, BYU lacks a true No. 1 scorer, and the team’s overall scoring numbers are a bit inflated from wins over Division II schools.
Gonzaga will need to contain Fousseyni Traore, BYU’s leading scorer who does his work near the basket. BYU, on the other hand, needs to take advantage of its talent around the basket and slow down Timme. That applies to any team facing Gonzaga, and Traore will shoulder much of that load. The ‘Zags shoot the ball well, but you’d rather take your chances with the likes of Strawther and Rasir Bolton than get gashed by Timme.