We’ve got all sorts of games on tap for the February 8 college basketball slate, as yet another busy CBB Saturday takes shape. Obviously there are tons of games that we could pick from, especially with so many rivalries, but you know exactly where we have to go.
That is to the town of Moraga, which is just 9.47 square miles in the massive state that is Californiam, but one of the country’s top mid-majors resides in the 925 and that is the Saint Mary’s Gaels. They’ll get their first crack against the Gonzaga Bulldogs and are a 5.5-point underdog at BetOnline Sportsbook to repeat the feat from last year’s West Coast Conference Tournament.
Before we dig more into this one, a quick reminder that my situational spots article has a bevy of games with favorable spots today and we talked about quite a few of these Saturday games with Greg Peterson on Friday’s edition of BangTheBook Radio.
The total of 149 is one of the higher totals in this head-to-head rivalry. There was a 151.5 last year that went under the total and we’ve actually seen six straight unders between the Gaels and Bulldogs. In fact, 16 of the last 18 head-to-head meetings have gone under the total, so there is some food for thought going into this one.
There are a lot of things to consider for this game, but arguably the most important is the status of Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie. Tillie looked like he was just about ready after going through warmups prior to the Loyola Marymount game, but it’s not like the Bulldogs need him in that spot. They’d rather have him here. Tillie left after nine minutes against Santa Clara and did miss several games in the non-conference. It hasn’t had a big impact on Gonzaga’s offense, but they have allowed more points per possession than their season average in each of the last three games.
With a game that could very well be close and does have a penchant for going under, the status of Tillie, which we probably won’t find out about until game time, is very important.
Gonzaga has one loss on the season. The Bulldogs lost to Michigan in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis by 18 points. It was the biggest outlier performance offensively and defensively for the Zags of the season. Gonzaga has been held under one point per possession in just three games and their other two instances have had .999 PPP against Oregon and then an off night against Pepperdine in a 75-70 win with .985 PPP.
Randy Bennett’s Gaels are again among the most efficient offensive teams in the country. In fact, SMC leads the nation in 3P% at 40.6%. With that, they are 13th in eFG% on offense and also 10th in adjusted offensive efficiency per Bart Torvik with a mark of 115.7. Saint Mary’s also takes excellent care of the basketball with the nation’s 11th-lowest TO% at 15.3%.
This Gaels team, however, is also trending to be the worst defensively that Bennett has had in quite some time. The current rank of 102nd in adjusted defensive efficiency isn’t as bad as the 133rd mark in 2018, but it would the fourth-worst in Bennett’s tenure, which dates back to 2008. The 49.6% eFG% against is the worst in Bennett’s tenure. Opponents are nearly making 50% of their shots against the Gaels inside the arc and that defense has been particularly bad of late, as Saint Mary’s has allowed a 56% 2P% against over the last six games. Only one of those games featured BYU. If we go back seven games, that was BYU and the Cougars were 23-of-47 from 2.
Gonzaga, as we know, is efficient on the offensive end year in and year out and ranks fourth in the nation in 2P%. The Bulldogs are also 11th nationally in 3P%. Gonzaga’s offense is tops in the nation per Torvik in adjusted offensive efficiency. Like Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga takes excellent care of the basketball with the fifth-lowest TO% in the country. The Zags are also better defensively than the Gaels.
Getting Tillie back would certainly help on both ends of the floor. He’s a good three-point shooter at 38%. The Zags shouldn’t have problems scoring without him, as just about everybody on this team is high-efficiency from 2 and the distance shooters are pretty accurate, particularly Corey Kispert, who is shooting 44% from 3.
If there is one area for Gonzaga that is lacking, it is the free throw line. The Bulldogs are only shooting 68.1% at the stripe and this game is right in that range where we might need Gonzaga to make some charity shots to cover the number.
This game could have something of a high-variance feel to it because of Jordan Ford, Malik Fitts, and Tanner Krebs. Each of those guys has taken over 100 threes for Saint Mary’s and all of them are shooting over 40%. Gonzaga’s perimeter defense is a big key to this game to say the least.
Even though this line did drop down from -6 to -5.5, it’s Gonzaga for me. Dating back to 2007, Gonzaga is 23-12 ATS against Saint Mary’s. For what it’s worth, the under is 24-11 and, as I mentioned, 16-2 in the last 18 games. Gonzaga’s offense is more efficient and defense is also more efficient. Hopefully Tillie is able to go. He looked like it before the LMU game. I would expect him to go here as Gonzaga has revenge from last year’s WCC Final.
Pick: Gonzaga -5.5