Betting St. Mary’s vs. Gonzaga and Other Mid-Major Games
© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Ahead of the first St. Mary’s/Gonzaga showdown at the Kennel, I’ll take a closer look at the matchup. Additionally, I will provide a quick preview of the following other critical mid-major throw downs.
Murray State at Belmont -1.5
Winthrop at UNCA +4.5
ETSU at Furman -2
St. Mary’s at Gonzaga -7.5
Since the early-season PK 80 tournament, Gonzaga has handled Creighton at home but was dismantled by Villanova at MSG. They also lost to San Diego State in front of a frenzied crowd at Viejas. However, their blowout win over Ohio State in Portland looks better each day.
Gonzaga got to the national title game last year behind a dominant frontcourt and an all-time defense. Per KenPom, last year’s Zags held opponents to just .86 points per possession, easily the best mark in the country. A drop-off was expected, but the Zags still play elite defense. They allow only .93 points per possession and the 12th lowest field goal percentage at the rim.
Mark Few centers his frontcourt defense around the multi-talented Killian Tillie and the athletic Johnathan Williams. Gonzaga allows just .68 points per post possession, per Synergy. That’s a major key against St. Mary’s 5 man Jock Landale, an All-American candidate who has 10 double-doubles in his last 11 games. Last year, albeit with Zach Collins and Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga limited Landale to 44 points in three games against Gonzaga (24 came in one game). Subsequently, the Zags held the Gaels to sub 1 point per possession in all three Zags wins. SMC scored less than 1 point per possession in only three other games all season. While Collins and Karno departed, Few can still swarm Landale with athletic length in Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams. He can also drop down big wings like Rui Hachimurato to help limit Landale at the rim.
Randy Bennett essentially brought Mike D’Antoni’s spread pick-and-roll offense to the college game, as he recognized he couldn’t recruit the athletes to compete with the rise of the dribble drive offense. Bennett’s pick-and-roll offense differs in that his guards look for the roller every single time, and thus, he has the best screening bigs in college basketball. Gonzaga’s defense limits pick-and-roll ball handlers to just .69 points per possession, per Synergy. However, they have allowed 1.01 points per possession against the roller and haven’t seen a lot of the action SMC will run. Landale might get limited at the rim, but he’s been effective as the roller this year, where he scores a lethal 1.57 points per possession.
While the Gaels might find more offense this year, they have a significantly worse defense. The Gaels surrendered just .95 points per possession last season, but they have allowed 1.02 ppp to date against Bennett’s typical less than stellar out of conference schedule. Landale and Tanner Krebs head a defense that grades out in just the 10th percentile nationally in post defense, per Synergy. Gonzaga will enjoy the biggest mismatch in this game at the 4 with Tillie against Krebs. Georgia and even Washington State exploited this weakness, where the Gaels allowed 167 points in 137 possessions in two losses. Even if Krebs shifts down to the 3, he can’t stay in front of Zach Norvell (and neither can Calvin Hermanson). Additionally, SMC struggles to defend the wing, and Norvell has turned into a legitimate scoring threat at the 3. SMC backcourt mates Emmett Naar and Jordan Ford have actually defended well in ball screens. However, Silas Melson and Josh Perkins have a length and athleticism advantage over both.
Essentially, Gonzaga has a plus matchup 1-5 on the offensive end. And more importantly, they have a chip on their shoulder after all nine WCC coaches picked SMC to win the league (coaches can’t vote for own team). From Steve Kroner at SFGate:
“It’s a big game for us Thursday, and we’re definitely ready,” Gonzaga forward Killian Tillie said after the Zags’ 75-65 win at USF on Saturday night, “because everybody chose us second, (and) we’re ready to show them we’re going to be first.”
The Pick: Gonzaga -7.5
Other Quick Hitters
ETSU travels to Furman in a battle for first place in the only SoCon gym they haven’t won in since Steve Forbes took over 2.5 seasons ago. The Bucs will have a major advantage at the rim, as Furman allows teams to shoot 62.6% in the paint. ETSU relies on their 3/4 versatility to exploit mismatches with Desonta Bradford, Bo Hodges and David Burrell. I’m not sure Furman can mitigate those mismatches with Andy Brown and Geoff Beans at the 4. Jalan McCloud should return at the point for ETSU after he missed the VMI game for a funeral. The Bucs should exploit their length and versatility advantage on both ends of the court to pull off a major SoCon road win.
The Pick: ETSU +2
Winthrop and UNC Asheville played the two of the more thrilling mid-major games last year. This year’s meeting features UNCA’s hyper aggressive small lineup against the league’s best frontcourt, led by Xavier Cooks. UNCA essentially runs out four point guards, with 6-foot-3 bulldog (pun intended) Ahmad Thomas lining up at the 4. They can all handle the ball, attack the rim, and apply pressure in a morphing, trapping 1-3-1 hybrid zone. Winthrop’s backcourt does not match up well with a physical trapping zone. The Broman brothers can shoot, but Winthrop’s offense filters through the versatile Cooks at the 4 and emerging sophomore center Josh Ferguson. However, the Bromans might struggle getting them the ball. Winthrop’s press offense ranks in just the sixth percentile, per Synergy. They also have just a mediocre zone offense.
The Pick: UNCA +4.5
OVC powerhouses Murray State and Belmont collide in Nashville for their only meeting this season. Both struggle defending athletic frontcourts (hence why both lost against Jacksonville State). Belmont basketball is synonymous with three things: Rick Byrd, his sweater vests, and outstanding drag screen motion offense. Teams can disrupt Belmont’s offense by getting in the jersey of point guard Austin Luke, who has an absurdly high 33.7% turnover rate. Murray State doesn’t extend their defense frequently, but Shaq Buchanan and Ja Morant can be effective ball hawks. However, Belmont’s outstanding motion offense makes it nearly impossible to bring help in the post, allowing Byrd’s big men to exploit single coverage. Murray struggles defending the post, which means Amanze Egekeze and even Mack Mercer should thrive.
The Pick: Belmont -1.5
Thursday Top Picks
Sacramento St +8