College Basketball Betting: Memphis at Gonzaga Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 02/06/2009
Bracket Buster games are for amateurs.
Gonzaga and Memphis meet on Saturday to play what has become the Annual Summit of Major Mid-Majors. These two clubs are the standard bearers when it comes to mid-major respect and achievement over the last decade, and their impromptu nonconference meeting in the middle of February has to be considered the Title Game for non-BCS supremacy.
The Bulldogs and Tigers tip off at 9 p.m. on Saturday at the McCarthy Athletic Center in Spokane, WA. Gonzaga has opened as a four-point favorite and the total is set at 143. This game will be featured on ESPN Gameday.
This will be the fourth time in the last five seasons that the Tigers and Bulldogs will go head-to-head and their previous three meetings have all been great basketball. Memphis is 3-0 in those contests and last year then-No. 1 Memphis held off a strong rally by the Zags to score an eight-point home W. In 2007 these clubs met in Spokane and Memphis escaped with a one-point road victory off a Chris Douglas-Roberts game-winner.
Memphis has won each of the last two meetings. However, there were some situational factors that directly contributed to those victories. In 2007 the Memphis matchup was only Gonzaga's third game without leading scorer Josh Heytfelt, who was busy tripping the light fantastic and was suspended for that sticky mushroom incident. Gonzaga has played grueling games against rival St. Mary's and Santa Clara in the few days prior to the Memphis game and really didn't have much left in the tank. And then last year one of the major factors in that game was the fact that it was a noon tip-off. Gonzaga, which is located in Washington State, came out very sluggish and simply wasn't ready for Memphis' intensity and athleticism at what was essentially 10 a.m. for the Bulldogs.
Each team actually features three key players from that 2007 thriller. For Memphis, Robert Dozier, Willie Kemp and Antonio Anderson all started for that team. For Gonzaga, Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin were starters, with Micah Downs contributing 25 minutes.
Memphis has won 13 straight games and their season has really skyrocketed since they installed freshman Tyreke Evans at the point. Evans is the team's best perimeter ball-handler and scorer, but for lack of a better option coach John Calipari decided that he wanted the ball in his best offensive players hands as much as possible. The results are unquestioned, and they have covered five of six games against the spread and nine of 12 ATS overall.
Evans is one of four double-digit scorers for the Tigers. Memphis loves to attack the basket and tries to punish teams on the offensive glass. They are not as proficient in the dribble-drive motion this season, but when they are getting to the hole they can score in bunches. Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggart are just solid forwards, and the key is Anderson. When he is offering the Tigers a solid No. 3 option then they can be really tough. Also, the Tigers are one of the toughest defensive teams in the country. They allow just 62 points per game and are No. 7 in field goal defense.
The Achilles' heel of Memphis is shooting. They are a dreadful three-point shooting team (No. 222 in the country at 32.9 percent) and they still have trouble from the foul line (No. 245 at 66.1). They know their weaknesses and try to steer clear of them by playing up-tempo. But in a close game against a good team it's tough to win without knocking down some jumpers and some freebies.
The marquee feather in Memphis' cap this season was a 54-52 road win at Tennessee. That is the Tigers' best win and, along with a 55-54 victory at Tulsa, the only time in the last month-and-a-half that the Tigers have been tested. Memphis is just 2-4 ATS on the road this year and they are also 0-3 both straight up and ATS in games against the Top 30.
Memphis' win over Tennessee was nice, but Gonzaga actually owns two victories over the Vols this season: one on a neutral court and one at Rocky Top. The Bulldogs are on a solid nine-game winning streak of their own and they currently have an RPI in the Top 10. This team is deep and very skilled on the perimeter, and No. 1 Connecticut needed overtime to kick the 'Dogs in Spokane back in December.
Gonzaga can beat teams in a variety of ways and they are really built to play any style of basketball. They can grind it out with teams by executing and playing good defense. They are No. 1 in the country in field goal defense and also allow just 62 points per outing. They can also pick up the tempo and try to run-and-gun past teams. Gonzaga is in the Top 25 in both scoring (79.0) and field goal percentage (47.8). They are also No. 54 in the country from deep, hitting 37.4 percent of their threes.
The engine on this Gonzaga team is Pargo. He was nearly unstoppable last year in Memphis and after a slow start to the year needs to pick up his game. The heart of this Zags squad is Heytvelt, who was a first-round talent before injuries and issues zapped him a bit. Both of those guys need to play well if Gonzaga wants to win.
I also think that the X-Factor for Gonzaga is Austin Daye. In my opinion, Daye is the most overrated player west of the Mississippi. He has loads of skill, but the sophomore doesn't take good shots or make good decisions, and I think he pads his stats against weaker competition.
Daye, a 6-11 forward, is the No. 2 scorer and rebounder for the Bulldogs at 13.8 points and 7.4 rebounds, respectively. However, Daye has only topped his scoring average once in six games against Top 50 competition this year. He managed just 13 against UConn, six at Tennessee, and 10 against both Oklahoma State and St. Mary's. Daye needs to be a factor for Gonzaga. But there is absolutely no way that he can stay with Dozier or Taggart, who are just too fast and too explosive for Daye to keep off the boards.
Memphis' athleticism has been too much for Gonzaga in each of the past three meetings. And - mid-major schools, plug your ears - that's usually what happens when teams from the smaller conferences matchup with larger schools in marquee games. That will again be the case this season, as the Tigers should easily out-quick Gonzaga the same way that teams like Arizona and Connecticut have.
That said, the Gonzaga has an experience edge with its five starters. They also have the revenge factor for the three straight losses. They are playing at home and will be ready to make a statement.
But the problem is that Gonzaga has been just a 50-50 team in these marquee matchups over the past three years. They are just 10-11 SU in neutral court non-conference matchups, where they have played this level of competition. Gonzaga is also just 9-14 SU against teams ranked in the Top 50 over that time. Also, Gonzaga hasn't been a great home team against top competition. Their biggest home wins over the past three years were over St. Mary's, a conference rival, and a win against No. 57 Washington last year. That's not impressive.
Regardless, it should be a hell of a show. And for one evening the mid-majors will take center stage and show the Big Dogs that they are haven't lost a step.