College Basketball Handicapping: St. Mary's at Gonzaga Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 2/11/2010
Kangaroos have no natural enemies. But the St. Mary’s basketball team certainly does.
St. Mary’s heads to Gonzaga at 11 p.m. on Thursday night to play in one of the burgeoning mid-major rivalries in the country. The visiting Gaels have been instilled as six-point underdog and the total is set at a healthy 152.0.
The Gaels are really just a bunch of wacky little Australian dudes that run around and bomb three-pointers. Five of the seven players in their rotation hail from ‘Roo Country and one of the keys to this game will be if the Aussies can adjust to Gonzaga’s physical brand of hoops.
Gonzaga posted an 89-82 victory on Jan. 14 in the first meeting. In that game the Bulldogs were merciless on the interior, earning a 20-rebound advantage on the boards (45-25) and taking 53 of their 63 shots from inside the three-point line. Gonzaga went to the foul line 22 times (compared to just 10 for St. Mary’s) and they held a commanding 12-point halftime lead in that game.
The teams combined to shoot a blistering 70-for-132 in the first meeting, with Gonzaga managing an ungodly 58.7 percent night (37-for-62). The primary reason was that the Gaels simply didn’t have enough in the paint to keep Gonzaga out of the lane.
Gaels center Omar Samhan – who looks like he would be a perfect Bond villain – held his own with 31 points and 12 rebounds. But he had no help underneath and Gonzaga dominated the paint. But 31 points and 13 rebounds from Gonzaga’s Elias Harris negated Samhan’s efforts. Harris is one of five guys in the Bulldogs rotation that stands 6-7 or taller and they have two guys, Robert Sacre (7-0) and Will Foster (7-5), that are seven-feet or taller.
Gonzaga has been able to outmuscle teams a lot bigger and a lot stronger than St. Mary’s this year. They are coming off a week in which they absolutely blasted WCC contender Portland (76-49) and then went on the road and handled Memphis (66-58). Gonzaga also has wins over Illinois, Wisconsin, Cincinnati and Oklahoma this year. Not exactly a bunch of softies.
The Bulldogs are No. 10 in the country in field goal offense, No. 31 in scoring, No. 95 in three-point shooting and No. 41 in rebounding. Defensively they are No. 95 in field goal defense and No. 91 defending the three-point line. They are just 3-7-1 against the spread in their last 11 home games but the host in this rivalry series is a solid 6-2 ATS.
St. Mary’s has gone 13-6 ATS in its last 19 games and has won its six games since the first meeting with the Bulldogs by an average of 13.8 points. But their nonconference conquests – mainly wins over San Diego State, Oregon and Utah State – have all come against teams that the Gaels could outmatch with their speed, savvy and shooting.
The Gaels are No. 3 in the country in three-point shooting at 41.6 percent and No. 3 in the country in free throw shooting at 77.2 percent. They are No. 10 in scoring and No. 8 overall in field goal offense. Defensively they are one of the best in the country defending the perimeter (No. 4 in three-point defense) but they still allow opponents to shoot better than 42 percent from the field.
So the question here is simply whether or not St. Mary’s is tough enough. Ben Allen, Matt Dellavedova, Jorden Page, Clint Steindl and Mitchell Young are all from Down Under. They all play that typical soft Euro-ball and want to turn this into more of a finesse game. But if they want to earn a critical split of this series – critical not only for a shot at the WCC title but also for fading NCAA Tournament consideration – these joeys are going to have to man-up, get dirty, and at least compete on the interior.
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