4 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. 13 UNC-Greensboro Spartans 1:30 p.m. Thursday
For some reason, there is very little talk about the No. 13 UNC-Greensboro Spartans and their prospects for an upset over last season’s national runner-up Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Spartans are (27-7) this season. They have won six games in a row. Moreover, their only blemish since February started was a three-point defeat to the Mercer Bears. What we are trying to say is, these Spartans know how to play basketball. And the team from Spokane better beware of what’s headed on Thursday afternoon.
After escaping the Wofford Terriers by a single point in the Southern Conference semifinals, the Spartans absolutely tore down the East Tennessee State Buccaneers in the conference finals. Now, they face what of the hottest basketball teams in the country.
The Bulldogs have won 14 games in a row. More importantly, their last four wins have come by double digits and they are playing their best ball of the season. However, the Bulldogs are in the same boat as the Spartans. Both teams are coming from one-bid leagues this year. It just so happens that the Bulldogs are ranked No. 8 in the country. Therefore, they might be a little under-seeded at No. 4 because their “resume” is not good enough.
Two things can happen when a favorite is under-seeded. The first is, they knock off an underdog that could have advanced against a proper team in the position. The other is, the Bulldogs get upset in the first round because they are playing team that’s much closer in stature than anyone realized. Think of Michigan State’s loss to Middle Tennessee two years ago. Plenty of people thought the Spartans should have been a No. 1 seed. You know, the seed that never lost in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament. Instead, they were a No. 2 seed and were no match for a 15-seed that looked like a 10 or 11 seed at worst.
The Spartans look like one of those teams. Guard Francis Alonzo is a dynamite shooter. He is connecting on 41 percent of his 3-point attempts. Alonzo leads the Spartans with 15.6 points per game. He can also move the ball with adept passing. Overall, the Spartans average 14 assists per game, so we will know if they are playing well by their ball movement. They also allow 13.7 turnovers per game. To complete the upset, the Spartans must not be loose with the ball. Therefore, they need to keep the turnovers under 10.
The Spartans really shine on the defensive side of the ball. Put it like this- the Bulldogs come into the NCAA Tournament averaging 84.5 points per game. They are in the top 10 in scoring offense. Well, the Spartans are in this position because they have a top 10 scoring defense. They are holding opponents to 62.4 points per game. As a result, the Spartans want to keep the game below 70. Otherwise, they might not be able to match the offensive firepower for a full 40 minutes. Overall, the Spartans have an 11 point scoring differential. The Bulldogs are at 17 points per game.
The only other double figure scorer for the Spartans is Marvin Smith. He is providing 12 points and 5.4 rebounds at the forward position. They also have some good size in the paint with Jordy Kuiper and Kyrin Galloway. The rotation will be key to slowing down the likes of Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura. If they are able to wall off the paint without fouling, this should be a splendid game.
The guard matchup should be a fun watch as well. The Bulldogs have the size advantage at every position. Meanwhile, Isaiah Miller and Demetrius Troy are tremendous on-ball guards. Their quickness will be a factor. They also combine to score 16 points per game. Miller comes off the bench to play around 16 minutes per game. However, if he gets it going, expect to see Miller play over 20 minutes. He is not a 3-point shooter, but I dare you to find somebody that can keep him out of the paint.
Since the game is playing in Boise, you have to go with the home team. However, if the South Dakota State and Ohio State fans get to the venue early enough, Gonzaga might have to face a hostile environment if the game is close. The Bulldogs are a 12.5 point favorite.
Score Prediction- Gonzaga 80 – UNC Greensboro 76