NCAA Basketball Pick: Portland Pilots vs. St. Mary’s Gaels

LT Profits Sports Group

Thursday, February 27, 2014 5:00 AM GMT

Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 5:00 AM GMT

In an interesting West Coast Conference battle, the Portland Pilots turn up as big double-digit underdogs when they visit the St. Mary’s Gaels on Thursday night.

The double-digit underdog could hold some value in West Coast Conference play Thursday night when those Portland Pilots (15-13, 3-7 away) pay a visit to the St. Mary’s Gaels (20-9, 14-2 home) at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, CA at 9:00 ET.

The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Portland as a large road underdog with the current line at +11 with odds of -106.

The Pilots have more talent than their15-13 overall record would lead you to believe, as evidenced by the fact that they very nearly swept both meetings with Gonzaga this season, first handing the Bulldogs their only WCC loss in Portland and then losing the rematch in Spokane by just five points. Portland is sixth in the WCC with a 7-9 conference mark, but it can still gain a fifth seed if it can win its last two games.

St. Mary’s is already at 20 wins, but 10 of those triumphs came vs. a non-conference schedule ranked 209th in the country in SOS. In reality, it has been a disappointing WCC season for the perennial conference runners-up, as not only have they been surpassed by BYU for second in the conference behind Gonzaga but they are actually in fourth place at 10-6, with the upstart San Francisco Dons third in the WCC at 11-5.

Saint Mary’s has already lost both meetings with BYU this season as well as its first meeting with Gonzaga, so the best the Gaels could possibly hope for is catching San Francisco for the third seed in the upcoming West Coast Conference Tournament. And even that is no easy task with the Gaels ending the regular season with a rematch vs. Gonzaga on Saturday.

So why are the Gaels having such a lackluster conference season? Well, two key reasons have been perimeter shooting offensively and interior defense on the other end of the floor. St. Mary’s is only eighth in the conference on three-point shooting during WCC play at 35.0 percent, and that may not improve tonight vs. a Portland team that is fourth in the conference in three-point defense at 35.1 percent.

As for the Gaels’ defense, they are eighth in the conference in two-point defense, generously allowing WCC foes to shoot 49.2 percent from inside the arc. Granted Portland is more a of perimeter shooting team, and a very good one at that, but the Pilots can still exploit the St. Mary’s perimeter with 6-foot-11 Thomas van der Mars, who is hitting an amazing 61.6 percent of his field goal attempts this season, mostly near the basket.

Van der Mars is averaging 12.9 points per game overall and has raised that average to 15.5 points over the last six games while topping double figures in five of those contests.

Now the Pilots have been without their leading scorer Kevin Bailey (16.5 points per game) the last four games with a calf injury, but there is about a 50 percent chance that he will return for this game. If he does not though, at least Portland will not be helpless offensively as besides the recent emergence of van der Mars, second leading scorer Ryan Nichols (13.0 PPG) has also stepped up by raising that his average to 15.2 points the last six games.

Obviously it would be a boon if Bailey returns, but nonetheless look for Portland to hang within single-digits on Thursday.

[gameodds]14/259528/?r-1=238-92-43-349-192/us[/gameodds]

NCAA Basketball Pick: Portland +11 (-106)

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