There really isn't much at stake in the grand scheme of
things Saturday night in Provo. The
season won't come to an end for the loser, the winner will not have
automatically guaranteed itself an invite to the NCAA Tournament in March.
That doesn't mean the Gaels and Cougars won't play like
everything is on the line. In the
present, this is a huge contest between two very good teams, and it's a
somewhat rare chance for the West Coast Conference to get a little prime-time
TV exposure without making a huge chunk of the nation stay up late to catch the
Openers on the NCAA basketball lines made BYU a
2.5 point favorite for the 9 PM (ET) broadcast start on ESPNU. The total started in the 151-152 range.
The teams met just before 2012 calendars went into use,
Saint's Mary's scoring a convincing 98-82 win as 5 point home chalk on the NCAA basketball odds. That marked the first ever meeting
between the two schools as conference rivals, and served as the West Coast season
opener for both as well. Saint Mary's
has rolled through all comers since then to fashion a 9-0 mark in the
conference standings, good enough for a 1.5 game lead over Gonzaga and 2.5
games ahead of BYU entering play on Saturday.
Brigham Young will be out for a measure of revenge, but
that's not as important as simply not falling any further behind the
Gaels. The Cougars will have just six
conference games after this before the postseason tournament that begins Feb.
29 in Las Vegas,
and they won't have another shot at Saint Mary's before then. Head coach Dave
Rose understands just how much a win over the No. 20 Gaels would look on the
Cougars' resume. Not only that, but
their next opponent will be Gonzaga on Thursday, so this is a very big
mini-homestand for BYU.
Saint Mary's would seem a shoo-in for the NCAA tournament right
now, but we've seen stranger things happen than a 20-2 team in late January not
making the big dance. Gaels head coach
Randy Bennett, along with Rose and Gonzaga's Mark Few, know full well they
can't give the selection committee any extra reasons to limit the WCC to just
Bennett brings the Gaels into this one off a 71-64 win at
Loyola Marymount on Thursday. The Lions
had been playing some of their best ball going into that one and actually held
a 7 point lead on Saint Mary's 14 minutes into the game. Stephen Holt stepped up for the Gaels,
however, scoring a game-high 19 to help put the final into the win column for
both teams' backers. If you got on Saint
Mary's -6.5 early, congrats are in order; same thing for those who waited and
had the Lions +7.5 at the closing bell.
Rose and the Cougars came home Wednesday night following an
upset win at Virginia Tech, 70-68. The
victory was BYU's second straight since getting whipped at home by that same
Loyola Marymount club a little more than a week ago. The Cougars built a 15-3 lead over the Hokies
midway through the first half, then watched all that work evaporate before
pulling the game out in the final minute.
The meeting between BYU and SMC back on Dec. 29 might have
been the first time the two faced off as West Coast foes, but the clubs do have
some recent history between them. It's
the first time they've played in Provo
since 2004 when the Cougs just got the cover in a 70-55 win over the Gaels as
14-point chalk. The three since then
have all been played on Saint Mary's own floor, the Gaels grabbing the cover
each time and winning twice.
Taking a Chance: Neither
the Gaels nor the Cougars have posted consistent betting trends to fall back on
this season. That's been partly due to
the sportsbooks setting sharp lines and partly due to the inherently inconsistent
nature when it comes to a bunch of 20-year-old kids playing college hoops. Brigham
Young is 10-9 ATS (2-2 in WCC games at home) and 8-10 O/U, while Saint Mary's
is 9-8 ATS (2-2 in WCC road games) and 9-8 O/U.
If you can detect any trends in that, be my guest.
One thing the Gaels
have done consistently this season is attack the glass. Bennett's bunch is one
of the top rebounding clubs in the country, and they do it well on both ends of
the court. That's the only reason I'm going to take Saint Mary's and the points.
My free pick is the Gaels +2.5.