NCAAB Gonzaga at San Diego
It has been 36 years since a team outside today's Power 6 conferences won the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship. Marquette, then an independent, was the last to do so with an unlikely run to the 1977 title when there were still just 32 teams and no seeding for the tournament.
Several schools have done their best to end that streak in recent years, but George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth and Butler all came up short. A few more, including Butler, will try again this March to upset the status quo.
We have learned not to discount Brad Stevens' Bulldogs from the Hoosier State, but it's another group of hardwood canines outside the Power 6 that appear to have the best odds of cutting down the nets in Atlanta. The Gonzaga Bulldogs, who are certainly no strangers to the Big Dance, became just the second team to reach the 20-win plateau earlier this week, and enter Saturday's contest at the San Diego Toreros ranked seventh on both of the latest polls.
Zags Coming Off 45-Point Laugher
Speaking of Jenny Craig, Gonzaga got fat on a diet of 3-pointers in Thursday's 88-43 rout at Loyola Marymount. Favored by 15.5, the Bulldogs bolted from the gate with an 11-3 lead and put the game out of reach with a 24-2 run over the final 9½ minutes of the first half.
The Zags shot better than 54% overall, sinking 13 of 21 heaves from outside the arc. Head coach Mark Few was able to rest his first teamers with only one starter playing more than 21 minutes, so the Bulldogs should be raring to go come Saturday evening.
It was Gonzaga's third consecutive win following a heartbreaker a couple of weeks ago at Butler which stopped an eight game win streak. The Bulldogs have not been nearly as consistent beating the spread, however, alternating winning tickets with losing stubs the past seven matches.
San Diego, meanwhile, enters the game on a three game skid both on the floor and against the spread. The latest setback was a 64-50 home defeat last Saturday as 5 point underdogs to Santa Clara.
The loss was also the third straight in which the Toreros failed to shoot at least 38% as a team. USD is averaging just 65.0 PPG on the season, and just better than 51 per outing during the current losing streak, which doesn't bode well against a Gonzaga defense allowing just over 60 a game in West Coast Conference play.
Bulldogs & Toreros Meeting For 82nd Time
San Diego head coach Bill Grier has seen a lot of this series over the years, and viewed it from both benches after serving as an assistant at Gonzaga for 16 seasons. Grier is hoping to see this one end with his Toreros on top for just the second time since taking over the team at the start of the 2007-08 campaign.
Gonzaga is 8-0 since then, 10-1 in Grier's tenure as USD coach, the only loss in the '08 WCC title tilt. Few and the Bulldogs will be after their ninth straight win in the series, and Gonzaga owns a 60-21 overall advantage.
Saturday's clash marks the sixth straight time the Zags have been favored by at least 11, and USD managed to stay inside the number in both meetings a season ago. The last four played in SD stayed UNDER, and that will be my free sports pick for this one.
My NCAAB pick: Under 134.5 at Bookmaker.