Midwest Region Picks: Play Seton Hall & 'Under' Against Erratic Gonzaga

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 12:11 PM GMT

Wednesday, Mar. 16, 2016 12:11 PM GMT

The final game of Thursday's Midwest Region play from the Pepsi Center in Denver features two conference tournament champions in No. 11 Gonzaga and No. 6 Seton Hall. 

Zags Have A Dynamic Duo
Gonzaga (26-7) really had just one quality non-conference win in the regular season, beating then-No. 18 UConn on Nov. 27 in a Thanksgiving holiday tournament. Otherwise, the Zags flunked tests against Texas A&M, Arizona, UCLA and SMU.

The Bulldogs finished 15-3 in West Coast conference play, which tied them for first with Saint Mary's -- but the Gaels won both regular-season meetings. Thus Gonzaga's streak of 17 straight seasons with an NCAA Tournament berth surely was going to end without winning the WCC Tournament. The Zags did, routing Portland, edging BYU and then taking out Saint Mary's 85-75 in the title game on March 8. That win was well-deserved as Gonzaga shot 61.9 percent from the field and made 21 of 22 free throws. Unfortunately for Saint Mary's, it wasn't able to get an at-large NCAA bid and was relegated to the NIT.

The 18 straight berths to the NCAA Tournament is the fourth-longest current streak in the nation behind Kansas, Duke and Michigan State. The No. 11 seed is the lowest seed for Gonzaga since 2011, when the Bulldogs were also a No. 11 and upset another Big East team in Denver, taking out St. John's before losing to BYU. Last year, Gonzaga was a  No. 2 seed. It beat No. 15 South Dakota State 86-76, dumped No. 7 Iowa 87-68 and knocked off No. 11 UCLA 74-62. But the Zags ran into No. 1 Duke, the eventual national champion, and lost 66-52 in the Elite Eight.

Gonzaga has one of the best 1-2 punches in college basketball and two future NBA players  in forward Kyle Wiltjer and forward/center Domantas Sabonis. Wiltjer, who started his career at Kentucky before transferring, averages 20.7 points and 6.5 rebounds. Sabonis is a double-double machine, averaging 17.4 points (on 61.7 percent shooting) and 11.6 rebounds. He is one of five finalists for the Kareem Abdul Jabbar Center of the Year Award in the country. They will be a handful for anyone. In addition, guard Eric McClellan was named the WCC Defensive Player of the Year. Gonzaga did lose very good center Przemek Karnowski to season-ending back surgery early in the season.

The Zags are 15-15-1 against the spread this season on NCAA tournament odds and 16-15 'over/under.'

 

Pirates One Of Nation's Surprises
The best non-conference win for Seton Hall (25-8) this season was at home against Wichita State on Dec. 19. The Pirates were 12-6 in the Big East, good for third place. But they swept to the conference title, beating Creighton 81-73, Associated Press No. 5 Xavier 87-83 and AP No. 3 Villanova 69-67 in the championship game. SHU star Isaiah Whitehead earned tournament MVP honors after scoring 26 points against Nova. It was Seton Hall's first Big East Tournament title in 23 years and its first Big Dance since 2006. That win knocked Villanova from a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney to a No. 2.

As noted above, Whitehead is the team's top player and was in the running for Big East Player of the Year. He averages 18.4 points, 5.0 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. Seton Hall senior Derrick Gordon apparently will make history here by becoming the first openly gay player to ever play in the Big Dance. He came out in interviews in 2014 while he was playing for Massachusetts. He transferred to Seton Hall before this season. Gordon averages 7.9 points and 3.2 rebounds in 23.6  minutes.

Seton Hall's only two losses in its past 14 games are both to Butler. The Pirates have played Gonzaga once all-time: in 1954. SHU is 23-9 ATS on NCAA tournament picks and 14-18 O/U.

 

Final Analysis
Great matchup because Seton Hall's strength is its backcourt led by Whitehead, while Gonzaga has the big advantage up front in Wiltjer and Sabonis. I'll go with the team from the better conference and that's the Pirates. Go 'under' the total. 

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NCAA Basketball Picks: Seton Hall +1 & Under 145.5
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes

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