It’s the biggest game of the season in the WCC as the Saint Mary’s Gaels take on the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The stakes are high as the winner sits on top of the conference as they would have the tiebreaker over the other. It’s been a disappointing year per the Bulldogs standards as they are currently 19-4. Many thought they would cruise to March with the return of Drew Timmie, but a lack of defense has brought them back down to earth. Can the Gaels continue to prove that this is their conference to lose this year?
Gonzaga Vs. Saint Mary’s Odds
Oddsmakers certainly think so as they opened the Gaels as a -4.5 favorite on their own home court. Bettors have leaned towards Gonzaga getting the upset, taking them down to -4 as of writing. It’s not every day you see Gonzaga as an underdog, but that’s exactly how far they have fallen with their defense failing them. The Gaels have proven to be a mainstay at this point of the season, currently fitting the Kenpom historic metrics of a potential National Champion. Behind their elite defense, the Gaels are poised for a run.
Speaking of defense, points are expected to be scored at a moderate pace as oddsmakers opened up the total at 141. Bettors were quick to smash the under, taking the total down to as low as 137.5 as of writing. This brings a lot of intrigue as the correlation between the Spread moving in Gonzaga’s favor doesn’t exactly align with the game script that would affect the total, making this an immediate pass for me. Gonzaga will need to crack the Gaels defense in order to cover, putting up points on the board at a consistent rate.
Gonzaga Vs. Saint Mary’s Prediction & Pick
The Pick: Gonzaga +4.5
With that said, I will back Gonzaga at +4 or higher in a rare underdog spot in a WCC conference matchup. The stakes are high, and I’ll back the experience of head coach Mark Few to get his team ready in what would be a major win for their program this season as the winner takes the current number one spot of the conference standings. It’s been a rough start for the Bulldogs, but this serves as a prime bounce back spot to prove they are still a legitimate force to be reckoned with.
The Gonzaga offense is still one of the best in the nation as they currently rank third in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency per Kenpom. The offensive identity is heavily revolved around the low post production of star big man Drew Timme who is once again having another incredible year, averaging 21.1 points per game, 7.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. He also is finishing at an elite rate, shooting 60.4%.
He will once again be the key player to watch for the Bulldogs as this serves as a tough matchup for Timme. The Gaels defense is one of the best in the nation, ranking fourth in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, and specializes in neutralizing looks at the rim. They force opposing offenses to shoot well below average in Effective Field Goal Percentage at the rim, as well as a lowly 44.5% from the floor as a whole.
While smothering interior looks has been the Gaels specialty, they have actually struggled at limiting perimeter opportunities. They have been very fortunate that teams have struggled to convert from the perimeter against them as they rank 205th in open-3 rate. Regression is looming large over the Gaels as this is a sharp contrast in conflicting results. Timme’s presence already commands attention down low, leaving the Gonzaga sharpshooters open to bury Saint Mary’s from deep.
Gonzaga Vs. Saint Mary’s Key Matchups
Can the Zags defense step up and limit Saint Mary’s scoring production?
Gonzaga defense vs Saint Mary’s starting five
It’s no secret at this point that the Gonzaga defense is their weak point, dropping in Adjusted Efficiency throughout the course of the season. They are very weak in transition and allow scoring opportunities at a high rate.
Good news for them is that the Gaels will not be equipped to take advantage of that weakness as they are one of the slowest tempos in the nation. Saint Mary’s currently ranks 358th in Adjusted Tempo, wanting to hit the brakes and set up their half court offense.
This bodes well for Gonzaga as they are in good position to score against their elite defense, forcing Saint Mary’s to up the tempo to keep within scoring pace. This could potentially make them uncomfortable and susceptible to havoc opportunities.
Back Gonzaga at +4 or higher in what will be a crucial game for their conference championships hopes. Their perimeter offense is well equipped to bury the Gaels early, forcing Saint Mary’s to play at an uncomfortable pace to keep up.