Free NCAA Tournament Pick: Gonzaga vs. Southern
For their opening act the Zags are favored by three touchdowns for their game Thursday against the champions of the SWAC tournament, the Southern Jaguars (4:10 pm ET).
Gonzaga isn't favored by a big number on the NCAAB odds boards just for nothing; they've got a very nice team. But can the Zags come up with a cover? Or can Southern, with its stingy defense, keep this one close?
Zags-Jags Betting Lines
Some books opened this game Sunday evening with Gonzaga favored by as much 23.5 points. But most books also adjusted that line downward to -21.5 by Monday morning.
According to the Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings at USAToday.com Sports, which we put some credence in, Gonzaga should be favored by 21 points for this match-up. So, while the oddsmakers may have over-rated the Zags to begin with, the betting public seems to have brought the line on this game right to where it ought to be.
Zags-Jags Game Preview
Gonzaga won the West Coast Conference regular-season title, going a perfect 16-0 in conference play. They then won the conference tournament, beating Big Dance at-large invitee St. Mary's (for the third time this season) in the championship game last Monday 65-51. So the Zags are playing in the NCAA tournament for the 15th consecutive season.
On top of those three wins over the Gaels, Gonzaga owns victories this season over Big Dance participants Oklahoma, Davidson, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Its only two losses came to Illinois, which also received an at-large bid to the tournament, and on a crazy play at the end of the game at Butler.
On the doggy side of this match-up Southern started 1-5 this season, with losses to, among others, Iowa State and Nebraska. But since the beginning of December the Jags have won 22 of their last 26 games. They haven't beaten anybody of note, but they did what they had to do in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, especially on the defensive end of the court, holding 18 of their last 26 opponents to less than 60 points.
Southern went 15-3 in conference play, then beat Prairie View A&M in the conference tournament title game Saturday 45-44 to earn its first NCAA tournament berth since 2006.
These teams met three seasons ago, in Spokane, Gonzaga bombing Southern 117-72. But that game probably has nothing to do with what might happen Thursday.
Zags-Jags By the Numbers
On the season Gonzaga, playing what Sagarin says was the 103rd-toughest schedule in college basketball, shot a smidgen under 50 percent from the floor, 36 percent from 3-point range and 71 percent from the FT line. The Zags also held opponents to 38 percent shooting and out-rebounded foes by almost eight boards per game.
Southern, playing what Sagarin ranks as the absolute weakest - 347th – schedule in all of D-1 college basketball this season, shot under 43 percent from the field, 36 percent from long range and 69 percent from the line. Defensively the Jags held foes to 37 percent shooting, but got out-rebounded by about one board per game.
Zags-Jags Betting Trends
Gonzaga is a lop-sided 8-19 on the OVER/UNDERS this season. Apparently the oddsmakers and/or the betting public have the notion the Zags play a lot of high-scoring games. But with Gonzaga holding foes to 59 PPG this season that's not necessarily the case. Eight of the Bulldogs' last nine games have played UNDER on the totals.
Southern has only played six lined games this season, but they've gone 5-1 ATS in those games, against the best competition on its schedule.
Free NCAA Tournament Pick
Gonzaga is the clear heavy in this match-up, and should be up by a comfortable margin in the second half. Now, giving 20-plus points in a situation like this is dangerous, because the Zags might want to rest their regulars down the stretch, with another game to play Saturday. But Southern hasn't played anybody near the caliber of Gonzaga this season, and is likely to find the going very tough. So while we're leery of giving so much, we'll take Gonzaga for our basketball picks here.
Free Picks: Zags -21.5 points offered at Pinnacle.