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NCAA Tournament Odds, Picks, Betting Predictions: Gonzaga vs. Norfolk State (March 20)

NCAA Tournament Odds, Picks, Betting Predictions: Gonzaga vs. Norfolk State (March 20) article feature image

Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Picturd: Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs and forward Corey Kispert

  • Gonzaga is a massive favorite over Norfolk State in the NCAA Tournament opening round on Saturday night.
  • It's the biggest spread of the tournament, as the Zags entered the field unbeaten and the clear-cut No. 1 team in the nation.
  • Get our full preview and Gonzaga vs. Norfolk State pick below.

Gonzaga vs. Norfolk State Odds

Gonzaga Odds-33.5
Norfolk State Odds+33.5
Moneyline-10000 / +2000
TimeSaturday, 9:20 p.m. ET
Odds as of Friday evening and via DraftKings

Much has been written about Gonzaga’s path to the Final Four and the potential of its first national championship in program history, but little has been made of the Zags’ first-round pairing against Norfolk State. Perhaps it’s a matchup that deserves a little extra attention given the historical backgrounds of both of these teams.

The first time Gonzaga earned a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs barely escaped their first-round opponent, beating Southern by just six points after being tied within the final four minutes of the game. Now, they’ll face another HBCU with a history of huge upsets.

The last time Norfolk State reached the Big Dance, the Spartans defeated Missouri as a 15-seed. Can a hot shooting night keep Norfolk State within striking distance of the Zags?

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Mike Randle: Mark Few’s Bulldogs have scored at an incredible pace with legendary efficiency.

They rank first in the country with 64.2% team 2-point accuracy. They also shoot a solid 36% from beyond the arc and have one of the elite 3-point shooters in college basketball in forward Corey Kispert. The 6-foot-7 senior is among the nation’s leaders in 3-point accuracy, shooting a blistering 44.7% (68-of-152). He leads the team in scoring at 19.3 points per game while adding 4.9 rebounds per game and has an overall field goal percentage of 54.5%.

Kispert’s marksmanship is balanced by super-frosh Jalen Suggs (14.3 ppg, 33.3% 3-point), Joel Ayayi (11.8 ppg, 39.7% 3-point), and 6-foot-10 sophomore Drew Timme (18.7 ppg).

Both Ayayi (7.1 rpg) and Timme (7.1 rpg) contribute directly to Gonzaga’s top-80 offensive rebounding percentage, per KenPom. Ayayi posted Gonzaga’s first-ever triple-double with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists in a 116-88 win at Portland on Jan. 9.

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Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Jalen Suggs (left), Andrew Nembhard (middle), and Drew Timme (right)

Yet, Gonzaga’s greatest strength may be its depth.

Former Florida starting point guard Andrew Nembhard (9.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 4.2 apg) has been moved into the starting lineup after graciously accepting a role as a non-starter for most of the season.

Sophomore 6-foot-8 forward Anton Watson (7.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg) has maintained efficiency coming off the bench, with 11 points and two steals in the Zags’ 86-69 end-of-season win over Loyola Marymount.

Norfolk State

Shane McNichol: Norfolk’s State’s performance in Thursday’s First Four win was typical of the Spartans’ season. As we previewed before that game, Norfolk State has a high variance range of outcomes. The Spartans make a high percentage from outside the arc and allow their opponents to take a ton of 3s.

Against Appalachian State, Norfolk State showed its ceiling in the first half. The Spartans hit 50% from long range and committed just three turnovers. Defensively, Norfolk State’s hybrid zone defense allowed Appalachian State to hoist endless 3-pointers and the Mountaineers missed all 18 of those attempts. That Norfolk State team looked fairly dangerous.

In the second half, the Spartans showed why they are slotted as a 16-seed. Appalachian State’s shots started falling and Norfolk State’s scoring dried up. Norfolk State went over six minutes without scoring and allowed the Mountaineers to roar back into the game.

The Spartans make enough 3s to spark offensive success, but they don’t shoot a high enough percentage of their field goals from distance to be truly dangerous. The Norfolk State zone can frustrate its MEAC opponents for stretches, though it shouldn’t be hard for a team like Gonzaga to solve.

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Matchup & Betting Analysis

Shane McNichol: When Norfolk State gets hot, the Spartans would look competitive against anyone. But this Gonzaga team is in another stratosphere athletically. Open shots won’t come easy against the Zags’ perimeter defense. Even if Norfolk State can hit some 3s, the Spartans will struggle to survive at Gonzaga’s pace.

Gonzaga plays at a top-five tempo in the nation, sprinting into transition after turnovers, defensive rebounds or made baskets. Norfolk State’s defense won’t have a chance to set before one of Gonzaga’s stars is finding a shot offensively.

Even if Norfolk State can organize itself and force the Zags into half court offense, the Spartans don’t have an answer for Timme on the interior. The Bulldogs post-scorer should have every chance to bury the Spartans with hook shots and drop steps.

It’s hard to find value on either side of the massive point spread. The back-half of what should be a blowout is hard to predict. The most value in this game comes on the total, based on the Zags’ ability to dictate the pace of the game.

Norfolk State plays slow offensively, averaging the 209th-shortest average possession on that end, yet the Spartans haven’t been able to slow down quicker opponents. Norfolk State’s average defensive possession is among the 25 shortest in Division I. Teams that want to run against Norfolk State has found little resistance. The Zags should be off and running, with the Spartans hustling to catch up.

The over makes the most sense here. Gonzaga’s team total of 93.5 might seem high, but given its propensity to run and Norfolk State’s inability to contain in transition, it’s very much in play as well.

Pick: Over 154.5 (up to 157)

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