West Region Second Round Prediction & Free Pick: #1 Gonzaga vs. #9 Baylor

Date | AuthorAdmir Aljic

Last Updated: 2019-03-22

Two at-large teams will meet each other in the West Region Second Round showdown at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Saturday, March 23, 2019, as the No. 9 seed Baylor Bears are listed as huge 13-point underdogs against the No. 1 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs with the total at 148.5 points. Representing the Big 12, the Bears defeated Syracuse in the first round, while the WCC vice-champions Bulldogs rolled past Fairleigh Dickinson. This will be the fifth head-to-head duel between Baylor and Gonzaga, and the Bulldogs have won all previous four duels.

The Baylor Bears won the battle against the Syracuse Orange 78-69 in the first round of the West Region thanks to a great shooting performance. The Bears made 53.8% of their field goals, nailing 16 treys out of 34 attempts from deep along with 20 assists to overcome Syracuse’s zone defense. Makai Mason had 22 points, 4 rebounds, and four assists, hitting four 3-pointers out of ten attempts, while Jared Butler added 14 points, also hitting four triples. The Bears played solid defense, limiting the Orange at 41.2% shooting from the field while forcing 13 turnovers.

The Bears are scoring 114.3 points per 100 possessions this season (22nd in the country) on 51.4 effective field goal percentage (136th), allowing 99.0 points in a return (95th) on 48.8 effective field goal percentage (85th). They are playing at a slow pace, averaging 66.4 possessions per 40 minutes (296th), and the Bears will have to slow down the tempo against the Bulldogs as much as they can. The senior guard Makai Mason is leading the way for Baylor, tallying 14.9 points and 3.3 assists per game, while the sophomore wing Mario Kegler is adding 10.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per contest. The Bears will miss their sophomore forward Tristan Clark who’s out for the season, and Clark is arguably the best defender and rim protector in this Baylor team.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs had an easy job in the opener, thrashing off the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights 87-49. The Bulldogs won the first half 53-17, and it seems the high altitude in Salt Lake City suits well to Mark Few’s boys. They shot 53.1% from the field and posted 47 rebounds while making 22 assists and forcing 17 turnovers. Rui Hachimura had 21 points and 8 rebounds; Killian Tillie added 17 points off the bench, while Zach Norvell Jr. had a nice all-around performance with 13 points, six rebounds, and seven assists. Still, the Knights are not a proper benchmark, and we couldn’t see Gonzaga’s real face on this one.

The Bulldogs are scoring 123.9 points per 100 possessions (1st in the country) on 59.6 effective field goal percentage (also 1st), surrendering 90.2 points in a return (10th) on 44.0 effective field goal percentage (7th). They are playing at a fast pace, recording 71.8 possessions per 40 minutes (51st). The coach Mark Few has plenty of talent in his roster which allows him to keep the pressure on opponents for all 40 minutes. The junior forward Rui Hachimura is a key player in this Gonzaga team, averaging 20.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while making 60.7% of his field goals, but another junior forward Brandon Clarke, the sophomore guard Zach Norvell Jr., and the senior PG Josh Perkins are all vital member of the Bulldogs’ rotation.

Pick: Baylor Bears +13.0

Without Tristan Clark, I think the Bears don’t stand a chance against the Bulldogs. Gonzaga will win this game and proceed to the Sweet Sixteen, but the Bulldogs could struggle to cover. The Bears are 6-3-1 ATS in their last ten outings as underdogs, while they are 8-2 ATS in the last ten games when listed as double-digit dogs. On the other side, the Zags are 3-5 ATS in their last eight outings as double-digit favorites, and they are 4-6 ATS in the last ten second-round matchups. Also, Gonzaga is 3-7-1 ATS in its previous 11 games in the NCAA Tournament.

As I’ve mentioned, Gonzaga can rotate a lot, while the Bears cannot afford that comfort. Still, the Bears shot the ball very well in the previous round, and if they replicate that performance, the Bears should keep it close enough to cover. Another important factor will be the pace, and Baylor head coach Scott Drew surely knows that his team has to slow down the Zags. Hereof, I’m backing the Bears to cover.

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