Gonzaga the NCAA Basketball Pick to Advance to Final Four

LT Profits Sports Group

Sunday, March 29, 2015 3:31 PM GMT

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The underappreciated underdogs could have a small surprise in store Sunday in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament when those second seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs (35-2, 20-1 away/neutral) take on the top seeded Duke Blue Devils (32-4, 17-3 away/neutral) in the South Region final from NRG Stadium in Houston, TX at 5:05 ET in a game televised nationally on CBS.

The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Gonzaga as a modest underdog for this contest with the current line at +2 with odds of -106.


Second Best Winning Percentage in the Country
Gonzaga actually now has the second best winning percentage in the country with its 35-2 record, obviously behind only undefeated Kentucky, and one of those two losses came in what was a meaningless game for the Bulldogs in the regular season finale as they were assured of a one-seed in the West Coast Conference Tournament and their opponents from BYU were playing for their NCAA Tournament lives, which they indeed gained.

There was some pessimism about Duke getting a once-seed in this tournament without winning either the ACC regular season title or the ACC Tournament, but remember that the selection committee looks at each team’s full body of work, and it would be impossible to argue that the Blue Devils did not have the best collection of road wins in the country this season, being the winning NCAA Basketball picks at Wisconsin, Virginia, Louisville and North Carolina.


Proven vs. Good Competition
The knock against Gonzaga obviously is that it hails from the lightly regarded WCC, and that may have been a legitimate knock in previous seasons. However, trying telling that to Iowa and UCLA as the Bulldogs routed the Hawkeyes 87-68 and the Bruins 74-62 in the last two games to reach their first ever Elite Eight under Mark Few!

The difference this season is that Gonzaga had a tougher non-conference portion of its schedule, and it passed every test except one which was an overtime loss by three points on the road at Arizona, which is certainly classified as a “good” loss. Other than that, the Bulldogs posted non-conference Pomeroy Top 100 wins over SMU, Georgia, St. John’s, UCLA and Memphis in addition to adding four more such wins in conference, beating BYU and St. Mary’s twice each.

So the biggest concern entering this tournament was that the Bulldogs may have grown “soft” with the long lag between playing teams from major conferences, but those concerns should have been squashed over the last two games, especially the authoritative win over an Iowa team ranked 19th on the Pomeroy Ratings, although the UCLA win was almost as good with the Bruins ranked 34th.

Thus, it is time to take the Bulldogs’ numbers seriously, and this is a team ranked fourth in the country in offensive efficiency and second in effective field goal percentage at 58.2 percent, thanks to ranking second in two-point shooting at 57.2 percent and seventh in three-point shooting at 40.3 percent. At the same time, Gonzaga is 30th in defensive efficiency and 15th in effective field goal percentage allowed at 44.2 percent.


Size Matters
Now we readily admit that while we had this Elite Eight matchup pegged in our brackets before the tournament, that we had Duke moving on to the Final Four. However, we considered that a very close call and we have seen enough in the recent games for these teams to flip-flop our ratings and now pick Gonzaga to advance.

We have already mentioned how impressive Gonzaga has been despite stepping up to face major competition, and at the same time Duke was not really overly impressive while getting by Utah 63-57 on Friday while shooting a non-Duke-like 44.4 percent from the floor. Yes, we understand that Utah had one of the best defenses in the country this season, but this Gonzaga defense is underrated and the size of the Bulldogs can cause Duke serious trouble.

Gonzaga is ranked 15th in the nation in average height while Duke is ranked just 54th, but more importantly the Bulldogs are an excellent third in effective height at +5.7 according to Pomeroy, thanks to having a 7-foot-1 center and two 6-foot-10 power forwards. Comparatively, Duke is 30th in effective height at +3.1.


Bulldogs Have Been Giant-Slayers Before
Finally, although the Bulldogs have not always faced major-conference schools, the fact remains that they are 20-7-2 ATS in its last 29 games vs. teams with a winning percentage above .600, so they are often underappreciated when facing top teams.

That may be the case again here so look for Gonzaga to improve to 36-2 by getting by Duke to advance to the Final Four in the South Region final from Houston on Sunday.

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Gonzaga +2 (-106)