Saint Mary’s vs. Gonzaga Odds
|Saint Mary’s Odds||+21 (-115)|
|Gonzaga Odds||-21 (-105)|
|Time | TV||Thursday, 9 p.m. ET | ESPN|
|Odds as of Wednesday evening and via PointsBet, where you can get $250 FREE instantly after signing up AND your bets automatically sync to the Action app.|
In Gonzaga’s quest for a perfect season, the Bulldogs have already handled a frequent speed bump in their destruction of the West Coast Conference — their annual road game against Saint Mary’s in Moraga, California.
The Zags won that game relatively comfortably in mid-January despite the Gaels jumping out to a double-digit first-half lead.
Saint Mary’s gets a second crack at the top-ranked Zags, though, this time in Spokane. Gonzaga has won 72 of its last 74 games at the Kennel, dating back to 2016, with the Zags’ last home loss coming against Saint Mary’s all the way back in January 2018.
For a Saint Mary’s team gasping for its tournament life, Thursday’s chance for an upset is a life raft. The Gaels will have a ton to play for, even if massively outmatched by Gonzaga.
Saint Mary’s Pace vs. Gonzaga’s Size and Athleticism
Every rivalry game carries a similar attitude from game-to-game and year over year, but few have the unique stylistic setup of the Zags and Gaels.
For the last decade or so, these two teams have squared off as the class of the West Coast Conference, with Gonzaga as the more athletic, fast-paced big bad wolf and Saint Mary’s playing a glacially slow pace, trying to beat the Zags with fundamentals.
Every game between these two teams takes on a similar framing, with this year’s edition of the rivalry typifying those differences.
This is the most athletic Gonzaga team ever, with Jalen Suggs breaking the mold of the kind of player that Gonzaga brings to campus. The Bulldogs are playing at the seventh-fastest pace in college hoops, scoring the most points per game, and dominating in the paint.
The Zags boast the best effective field goal rate in the nation and the second-highest field goal rate on shots at the rim.
Saint Mary’s, meanwhile, tries to win in a completely different fashion. The Gaels rank 350th in the nation in tempo, playing just 66 possessions per game. That number is worlds away from Gonzaga’s average of more than 75 possessions per game.
Saint Mary’s will once again try to neutralize Gonzaga’s height and speed advantages by making the Zags play at the Gaels’ preferred pace. By doing so, Saint Mary’s can maximize its possessions. This season, the Gaels lead the WCC in turnover rate.
Gonzaga Will Attack the Paint
Even if Saint Mary’s is able to control the pace and keep this game under 70 possessions, Gonzaga still will find advantages in the half-court.
The Bulldogs are not only shooting the highest 2-point percentage in the nation, but they’ve managed the best shooting mark inside the arc since KenPom began tracking in 2002.
The Gaels’ defense is not built to handle a barrage from the painted area. Saint Mary’s has found defensive success this season by running shooters off the 3-point line.
The Gaels lead the WCC and are fifth in the nation in preventing 3-point attempts, as a percentage of total field goals allowed.
Yet, inside the arc and in man-to-man, Saint Mary’s doesn’t have the athleticism to consistently win defensively.
Expect Saint Mary’s to stay glued to the Zags’ shooters on the outside, while Gonzaga gladly attacks off the dribble or feeds the ball to Drew Timme on the block.
Saint Mary’s Ice-Cold Shooting Could Be Due for Regression
For a team that plays as slowly as Saint Mary’s does, the Gaels have not been able to convert their offensive patience into quality looks as often as you’d expect.
Saint Mary’s has the worst effective field goal percentage in the conference, largely due to major issues outside the arc. The Gaels are shooting well below the national average from 3-point range on the season and have been dismal during conference play, managing to make just 28.9% of their attempts in six WCC games.
If you want to find value in betting the Gaels here, that could be interpreted as a fluky number due for regression.
While that’s possible, I think it’s more likely that Saint Mary’s is a team without any elite shooters that ranks outside the top 300 in assist rate and prefers to shoot in the final seconds of the shot clock.
Betting Analysis & Pick
Gonzaga’s 72-2 home record might not catch your eye, given its placement in the WCC and the total disinterest of any non-conference opponent to come play in Spokane.
Yet, even against lesser competition with expectedly large point spreads, the Zags have impressed at the Kennel. Over that streak, Gonzaga is 42-25-1 against the spread in its home gym.
There’s almost no expectation that Saint Mary’s will be able to legitimately threaten the Zags in this game, although that 21-point spread is formidable.
With Saint Mary’s doing everything it can to slow down the pace of this game, it’s not hard to imagine the Zags dominating on a per-possession basis but the Gaels slowing things down and keeping the raw margin of victory low.
Instead, there are two more prudent ways to bet this game.
First, despite the pace of this game, it’s alarmingly difficult to see how Saint Mary’s can stop the Gonzaga offense. Barring a disaster shooting performance, Gonzaga’s presence in the paint will be overwhelming for the Gaels.
Gonzaga’s team total at 81.5 is too enticing to pass up.
The Zags have only failed to clear that total twice in 20 tries this season. Even though one of those two came against Saint Mary’s, that game included a sluggish and cold start the Zags will be eager to avoid this time around.
Additionally, the Zags’ slow start in their road meeting against Saint Mary’s will be top of mind on Thursday. You can be assured Mark Few will remember and have his team ready to attack at the opening tip in this game.
The Zags are coming off five straight road games, thanks to some COVID-19 cancellations, and haven’t played in the Kennel since Jan. 23. Gonzaga should come out firing, making the first-half point spread an attractive option.
Pick: Gonzaga (1H) -11. | Gonzaga Team Total Over 81.5.