NCAA Basketball Handicapping: Gonzaga Chances for No. 1 Tourney Seed
by Trevor Whenham - 2/17/2015
With Arizona's loss at rival Arizona State on Feb. 7, the door is wide open for Gonzaga to secure their second No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in three years. Given their talent they could also be poised to make their first trip beyond the Sweet 16 since that 1999 run to the Elite Eight that first brought them into the national consciousness. As always, though, there are as many people who are skeptical of the Bulldogs because of their conference and other factors as there are those who are truly optimistic. So, is this a team ready to make some real noise? Or are they just overrated and poised to disappoint whether as a top seed or not? Let's take a look:
Only one loss: The last time the Bulldogs were a top seed they lost three times before the tournament. This year they have lost once, and they are well-poised to remain as a one-loss team right up until the end of the season. As impressive as their near perfection is, that their one loss is hardly a damning one - they lost at Arizona in overtime. They do have two of their tougher games remaining - at Saint Mary's and against BYU - but they have already beaten each team once and are more than capable of doing so again. No matter what conference you play in, getting to the NCAA Tournament with a single loss is more than impressive.
Schedule not as soft as some perceived: While the West Coast conference neither among the best in the country nor as strong as it has been in recent years, it's still solid enough, More significantly, the perception that the Bulldogs have played a very weak schedule just isn't true. They have played seven games against teams in the Top 68 in RPI, which compares solidly to what other top teams have done. In those games they have obviously gone 6-1 with just the overtime loss. This team hasn't been massively challenged in their conference, but then neither has Kentucky by their SEC schedule.
Best shooting team in the country: I'll quite happily have faith in a team that shoots well heading into the tournament. Gonzaga certainly fits that bill. They are the top team in the country - by a not-insubstantial margin - when it comes to field goal percentage. They are also Top 20 from beyond the arc. The shooting strength runs deep in the team, too - six of the seven teams that average at least 20 minutes per game are shooting at least 49 percent from the field.
Experience: In the postseason players who are experienced can be a massive asset. Gonzaga has no shortage on that front. Four of the Top 6 scorers on this team are seniors. Three have already been the top seed in the tournament once before, and the fourth transferred from USC this year. The top scorer, Kyle Wiltjer, is in his first year of playing for Gonzaga, but as a freshman he was a solid contributor on that Anthony Davis-led Kentucky squad that won the National Championship, and the next year he was named the top sixth man in the SEC. He's the real deal, and he seems very comfortable in his new environment. Add it all up and this is a team that is definitely not likely to struggle under the intense pressure in front of them.
Real talent: Not only is this team older and experienced, but they are very talented as well. Wiltjer is, as mentioned, excellent. Kevin Pangos is a great guard and game manager. Byron Wesley, who graduated from USC last year, is solid in the backcourt. Junior Przemek Karnowski and freshman Domantas Sabonis are an impressive European one-two punch. Gary Bell Jr. is an established and versatile veteran. There are deeper, more talented teams in the country, but not more than two or three.
Betting performance: At 12-10-2 ATS on the season this team is profitable but not to a significant extent. They have failed to cover the spreads in four of their last six games. They have won each game fairly easily, though, so their struggles against the spread lately are as much about the increased public attention and faith and the massive spreads they face as a result than any particular issues they have had. They have been a much stronger 8-3 ATS mark at home, though, so they can be trusted to take care of business there.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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