It is a big week across the college basketball landscape with a ton of conference tournaments and important matchups that will decide the postseason fates of teams around the country. And, yet, Monday starts off a little bit slowly with only a couple handfuls of games. Nevertheless, we’ve got a lot of games of interest and several very important matchups.
Wofford and East Tennessee State square off in the SoCon to determine a champion. MAC Madness gets underway with games on campus sites. Elon and Northeastern have turned the CAA Tournament upside down and one will clinch a berth in the CAA Final on Tuesday night. Our focus, however, is going to be in the West Coast Conference, where Saint Mary’s and BYU square off in the semifinals for the right to likely face Gonzaga in the championship game.
Per BracketMatrix, Saint Mary’s and BYU are solidly in the NCAA Tournament field along with Gonzaga, who is likely to occupy a #1 seed line. But, a West Coast Conference finals appearance and a crack at Gonzaga once more sound pretty appealing for both of those teams. BYU is -4.5 with a total of 145 at DSI Sportsbook in front of what should be a sold out crowd at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
These are two well-coached teams and two extremely efficient offenses. Randy Bennett’s Gaels rank 11th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, 19th in eFG%, fourth in TO%, and fifth in 3P%. The Gaels are not a particularly good defensive team, but they maximize each and every possession on offense and that leads to a small margin for error for the opposition. Saint Mary’s is also top 60 in 2P% and FT%.
Outside of a one lopsided loss to Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s has been in just about every game. The Gaels did lose by a bucket to Big South Champion Winthrop in the second game of the regular season, but their other losses have been Dayton by 10 on a neutral, Pacific in four overtimes on the road, a blip on the radar in a one-point loss to Santa Clara immediately following an overtime win over BYU, a loss by two at BYU, and then two Gonzaga losses.
This is a very solid team, particularly on the offensive side and they could be a tough matchup for somebody in the NCAA Tournament to be sure.
We already know that BYU will be. The Cougars are sixth in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, second in eFG%, 11th in TO% on offense, first in 3P%, seventh in 2P%, and they are actually ranked 17th in the nation overall by Bart Torvik. This team is an offensive juggernaut to say the least. They take a good amount of threes, but also knock down a lot of those threes. Their 41.4% 3P Rate ranks 89th nationally and they could even end up taking more as the postseason rolls along.
BYU owns the only conference win over Gonzaga, They also have losses to San Diego State, Boise State, Kansas, Utah, Saint Mary’s, and San Francisco on their ledger. They also beat Houston on the road for a signature win, beat Utah State, and also had a nice 90-point effort in a win over Virginia Tech.
We also have two very different versions of BYU. There is the BYU with Yoeli Childs and the BYU without Yoeli Childs. Childs is a 60% shooter on two-point shots and has hit nearly 48% of the threes that he has taken. He’s also a monster on the glass. He has also missed 12 games.
Childs missed the first eight games of the regular season, which featured losses to SDSU, Boise, and Kansas. He had 29 in the overtime loss to Utah, but only played 25 minutes. He missed the first meeting against Saint Mary’s and the first meeting against Gonzaga. BYU lost both of those, but then won the revenge games. Childs has scored 22.2 points per game with 8.9 rebounds per game. BYU is 16-2 when Childs is in the lineup. Aside from the Utah loss, the other loss was to San Francisco, who was 13-of-25 from 3 and 30-of-55 from the floor overall.
When Childs is out there, BYU has a ton of scoring options. Jake Toolson shoots 47% from 3. Alex Barcello is a 49% shooter. Tenth-year senior TJ Haws is only shooting 36% from 3, but 55% from 2. This is a BYU team that can score from anywhere and that will challenge Saint Mary’s.
After all, how many teams score 84 and 81 points against Saint Mary’s? This is a Gaels team that plays at a very slow tempo, but the Gaels are so efficient on offense that they can put up points. The first game was played to 77 possessions because of overtime, but the second game had 160 points over just 64 possessions.
Saint Mary’s has two 40% guys from 3 in Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts. They have an extremely efficient scorer at the rim in Dan Fotu. They have three guys shooting over 80% at the free throw line to salt games away and maximize possessions.
If there is a concern about Saint Mary’s, it is that their game against Pepperdine on Saturday went two overtimes, so they had to spend a lot of energy in that quarterfinals matchup. Fortunately, they had Sunday off, otherwise going up against BYU would have been exponentially tougher.
These are two teams very deserving of a spot in the NCAA Tournament and it is nice to see that Saint Mary’s is solidly in and won’t have to scratch and claw or pull back-to-back upsets to do it.
Maybe it helps SMC to have played a game at Orleans Arena to get a better lay of the land. As we know, jump shooting teams can struggle away from the friendly confines. Of course, then we look at BYU and they actually made a higher percentage of threes in road/neutral settings than they did at home. They weren’t quite as efficient from 2, but still made a ton of shots. The neutral setting won’t bother them and it should be something of a pro-BYU crowd.
I’ll lay the number with BYU tonight. The -4.5 seems pretty fair and these are two stunningly efficient offensive teams, but BYU has a higher likelihood of scoring in threes and it is hard to keep up scoring in twos. BYU is such a different team with Childs, who will be rested and ready to go.
Pick: BYU -4.5