2021 NCAA Tournament Odds, Picks, Predictions: Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma Betting Preview (March 22)
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Picturd: Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs and forward Corey Kispert
- Gonzaga is a big favorite over Oklahoma in Monday's NCAA Tournament second round matchup.
- There is a three-part game plan to beating Gonzaga -- but there's no recent evidence to suggest Oklahoma is the team poised to perfect it. The Zags have beaten teams a lot better than the Sooners by margins bigger than this spread.
- @OnTheShaneTrain breaks down why he's backing Gonzaga to cover in Monday's second-round matchup.
Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma Odds
|Moneyline||-1250 / +750|
|Time||Monday, 2:40 p.m. ET|
Atop the West Region, the Round of 32 features a matchup between two teams riding positive momentum after big first-round wins.
The top-seeded Zags answered every question about possible rust following 11 days off between the WCC title game and the opening round. Gonzaga blitzed 16-seed Norfolk State, leading by as many as 49 points late in the second half.
They’ll face an Oklahoma team that battled to sneak by Missouri in the first round, with second-leading scorer De’Vion Harmon sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19. The Sooners won by just four points, behind 23 points from Austin Reaves and five made 3-pointers by big man Brady Manek.
The Sooners will need to elevate their game even further to have a chance on Monday, with the Zags favored by north of two touchdowns.
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger is notorious for hunting down mismatches to exploit offensively. This season, that’s mostly led to Reeves operating off a middle ball screen, usually set by pick and pop expert Manek. If another Sooner has the right matchup to be the ball handler or the screener, Kruger and Co. are quick to make the adjustment and maximize their chances.
So, where is the mismatch against this Gonzaga team?
With four starters named to the First Team All-WCC team, it’s hard to find a hole. From an outside perspective, the most logical person for the Sooners to attack is Zags big man Drew Timme — he can more than hold his own on the defensive end of the floor, but it would be in Oklahoma’s best interest to make Timme engage defensively to test the conditioning in his legs or bait him into foul trouble.
Gonzaga is hampered when Timme heads to the bench. According to on-off data from Hoop-Explorer.com, the Zags score 129.9 points per 100 possessions and allow 89.9 points per 100 possessions with Timme on the floor. When he heads to the bench, those numbers plummet to the (still wildly impressive) 113.2 points offensively and 98.2 points defensively. His absence makes the Gonzaga offense much more single-faceted.
Kruger will be well aware of this discrepancy and make Timme chase Manek up to the perimeter for screen after screen.
When Gonzaga Has the Ball
Gonzaga’s offense has a full arsenal of weapons.
Timme is a modern-day Kevin McHale on the block, nearly impossible to stop without a threat of a double team. If you dare to double him, Corey Kispert is the best shooter in college basketball and the other Zag starters are all capable of sinking open shots.
Beyond that, Jalen Suggs is an elite athlete and a terror to keep out of the paint when he drives downhill. Andrew Nembhard is an excellent ball-handler with top-level court vision. Joel Ayayi and Anton Watson are fantastic cutters without the ball and always seem to be in the right place at the right time.
There’s no logical place to help from, but stopping Timme in the paint is the key — he’s Gonzaga’s jab punch.
The Zags go to him early to test the waters. If it works, they just keep punching the ball inside for buckets. If you can slow Timme down (or sideline him with foul trouble), the other Bulldogs need to create as drivers and shooters. They have plenty of skill in those areas, but it’s easier to stop the Zags when they play outside-to-inside than vice versa.
Perhaps the hardest part of stopping Gonzaga is adapting to the Bulldogs’ pace. It’s not easy to frustrate Timme inside, contain Suggs on the perimeter, and always have a hand in Kispert’s face. It’s a lot harder to do at a million miles per hour.
Gonzaga takes every opportunity to push the ball into transition, after turnovers, rebounds or made baskets. Defenses have to not only prepare for all of the Zags’ firepower, but they also have to be ready at the drop of a hat while getting down the floor.
If you’re a step slow, the Zags get a good look at the rim.
Betting Analysis & Pick
It is hard to see a team competing for 40 minutes with Gonzaga if they don’t have a center who can single-handedly challenge Timme … unless one of three outlier events occur.
First, Timme could be sidelined with foul trouble. That isn’t a catch-all but it sure does make life easier.
Second, the Zags could go ice cold shooting from outside the arc. Gonzaga’s only single-digit margin of victory this season came against West Virginia, when the Bulldogs hit just 4-of-16 from outside (plus Suggs missed a large stretch of that game with an injury).
Lastly, the opposite could occur: Gonzaga’s opponent could hit a mind-blowing percentage from long range. In the first half of the WCC Tournament final, BYU did just that, hitting 69% on 13 attempts en route to a 12-point halftime lead.
All three of those things have happened this season and yet the Zags are still unbeaten. It’s starting to feel like all three need to occur in the same game for anyone but the nation’s top three or four teams to threaten the Zags.
There’s no recent evidence to suggest this Oklahoma team is the one poised to perfect the game plan to beat the Zags. Gonzaga has beaten teams a lot better than Oklahoma by larger margins than this spread.
Pick: Gonzaga -14.5 (Play to -15.5).