NCAA Basketball Picks: Fade Gonzaga Due To Key Player Injury vs. Tennessee

Mark Lathrop

Saturday, December 19, 2015 6:21 PM GMT

With a key injury shuffling Gonzaga's roster, will they have enough depth to overcome an experienced Tennessee squad and beat the NCAA Basketball odds?

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Tennessee +9.5 

Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes

 

In the annual game to appease Gonzaga graduates living on the west side of their school’s home state, the “Battle in Seattle” this year pits the 7-3 Zags against the 5-4 Tennessee Volunteers of the SEC. The Gonzaga Bulldogs have opened up as 9.5 favorites on the NCAA Basketball odds for the nationally televised Saturday night game.

Gonzaga has struggled since losing key big-man and senior center, Przemek Karnowski, to a back injury. Karnowski has a bulging disc in his back, which not only kept him out of the lineup, but kept some feeling from reaching his legs. Not good at all and we shouldn’t expect him back in the lineup any time soon, maybe not until next season if he is able to pick up a medical redshirt.

Luckily for Gonzaga, they have a second big that can take over a game in Domantas Sabonis. The 6’ 11” Lithuanian sophomore has seen his minutes jump up to 25.3 per game in 2015, logging 14.7 PPG and 9.8 rebound per game as well. But Sabonis is after all, a sophomore, so I expect him to be streaky against more experienced clubs.

The other big that will have to step up in a hurry for Gonzaga is 7’ 1” center, Ryan Edwards. After logging minutes in the single digits for most of the season, Edwards played 18 minutes in the game against St. Martin. Although that was a blowout against a Division II opponent, Edwards didn’t exactly light up the stat sheet with 2 points and 3 rebounds.

Of course, we couldn’t mention the Gonzaga roster without talking about player of the year candidate, Kyle Wiltjer. The Kentucky transfer is finally having his time in the limelight, and has made the best of it thus far averaging 19.8 PPG in 11 games this season. Wiltjer’s best effort of the season was two weeks ago against Arizona, when he dropped 33 on the Wildcats at home in a 68-63 Gonzaga loss.

Even with the apparent depth that Gonzaga has they are 0-4 ATS since Karnowski was removed from the lineup. This is still a very young team, and it is showing in the new rotation that has resulted from removing the senior.

Tennessee comes into this season with new head coach, Rick Barnes, the third head coach for the Vols in three years. But other than the new head coach the Vols return most players from last year, with the exception of Josh Richardson, who is now with the Miami Heat. Those players; however, fill out one of the smaller lineups in all of college basketball. While they play a fast tempo offense on their side of the court, they could run into issues guarding the 6’11” Sabonis and 6’ 10” Wiltjer on the Gonzaga side.

Just how small is Tennessee’s lineup? They have just three players on their roster at 6’ 7” or taller. Gonzaga will start three players at 6’ 10” or taller. The length of Gonzaga could present matchup issues on both sides of the ball. That is, if the Zags try to take advantage of it. Wiltjer tends to hang out on the outside on offense, so if he just decides to shoot over the top his performance will be dependent on how he sees the basket on a neutral court.

If Karnowski was still in the lineup the line offered in this game would be appropriate, as Gonzaga would not only have size, but depth at multiple positions to smother the Vols and win by double digits. Since that is not the case, what we are left with is a slight size mismatch in favor of Gonzaga, and an experience mismatch in favor of the Vols. Add in the fact that this is a neutral court, and not The Kennel that Gonzaga usually plays in, and you have a Tennessee squad that should have the poise to keep this one close. Take Tennessee and 9.5 points at Heritage as one of your Saturday NCAA Basketball picks.