West Region First Round Prediction & Free Pick: #1 Gonzaga vs. #16 Fairleigh Dickinson

Date | AuthorAdmir Aljic

Last Updated: 2019-03-21

The Northeast Conference champions Fairleigh Dickinson Knights and the West Coast Conference vice-champions Gonzaga Bulldogs will lock horns in the West Region First Round showdown at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, this Thursday, March 21, 2019. The No. 16 seed Knights will take a long trip to Salt Lake City to meet the No. 1 seed Bulldogs who are listed as massive 27.5-point favorites with the total at 152.5 points. These two schools will play against each other for the first time ever.

The Fairleigh Dickinson Knights are coming off their first NCAA Tournament win, defeating Prairie View A&M 82-76 in the First Four matchup this past Monday. The Knights were trailing by seven points at halftime, but they dropped 48 points in the second half to overcome the Panthers. They shot 54.5% from the field, while Darnell Edge had a big night with 33 points. The Knights earned their spot in the Big Dance with an 85-76 win to Saint Francis PA in the finals of the NEC tournament. They finished the regular season with a 21-13 record overall and 12-6 in the conference play, entering the NCAA Tourney as a No. 203 at the NCAA NET Rankings.

The Knights are scoring 105.4 points per 100 possessions (137th in the country) on 54.8 effective field goal percentage (27th) and 40.5% shooting from downtown (5th). While their offense is looking really good, the Knights are having big problems at the defensive end, surrendering 110.4 points per 100 possessions (302nd) on 51.7 effective field goal percentage (213th). Also, their strength of schedule was 339th in the country, and the lack of experience is a big issue for Greg Herenda’s boys. The senior guard Darnell Edge and the sophomore guard Jahlil Jenkins are leading this FDU team, averaging 37 minutes per game each. Edge is tallying 16.9 points and 3.5 rebounds per game while making 48.1% of his field goals and 48.4% of his 3-pointers. Jenkins is adding 13.8 points and 4.6 assists per contest.

Fairleigh Dickinson is playing its sixth NCAA Tournament. The Knights have dropped all their five games before a win over Prairie View A&M including three losses to the No. 1 seed.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs finished the regular season at the top of the WCC standings with a 30-3 record, going perfect 16-0 in the conference play, but they suffered a heavy 60-47 loss to the Saint Mary’s Gaels in the finals of the WCC tournament. It was an enormous upset for the Bulldogs who qualified for the Big Dance as one of the at-large teams, still earning the No. 1 seed in the West Region. Gonzaga is the No. 2 at the NCAA NET Rankings.

The Bulldogs are scoring 124.0 points per 100 possessions (1st in the country) on 59.6 effective field goal percentage (also 1st) and 36.5% shooting from beyond the arc (68th), allowing 90.8 points in a return (11th) on 44.2 effective field goal percentage (8th). However, the Bulldogs’ strength of schedule was 84th in the country, and they suffered a couple of losses to Tennessee 76-73 and North Carolina 103-90, but they also defeated Duke 89-87 at the neutral site. The junior forward Rui Hachimura is leading this Gonzaga team, averaging 20.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while making 60.9% of his field goals. Another junior forward Brandon Clarke is posting 16.5 points and 8.4 boards per contest, while the senior guard Josh Perkins is tallying 11.0 points and 6.5 assists per game.

Gonzaga has appeared in 22 NCAA Tournaments, reaching the National Championship Game in 2017 when the Bulldogs lost to North Carolina 71-65. They’ve recorded 30 wins and 20 losses so far. The Bulldogs are 2-0 straight up and 0-2 ATS against the No. 16 seed, while they are 8-0 straight up and 0-8 ATS in their last eight NCAA Tournament games when listed as double-digit favorites.

Pick: Fairleigh Dickinson Knights +27.5

The Knights are on a nine-game winning streak, covering the spread eight times in that span, but they will have a mountain to climb against the Bulldogs. I’m pretty sure Gonzaga will win this game, but I’m not sure the Bulldogs will cover the spread at all. The Knights are 6-3 ATS in their last nine outings as underdogs, while the Bulldogs are 3-5 ATS in their previous eight showings as favorites. The Knights’ defense will struggle here, but their offense could make some damage. It could go either way, as the Bulldogs will be highly motivated after that embarrassing defeat in the WCC finals, but I would stick with the betting trends.

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