The Gonzaga Bulldogs soundly dismantled St. Mary's for the second time this season on Saturday night to move to 26-0. The Gaels are their toughest conference rival by far, so the path is now set for the Bulldogs to run the table and be undefeated heading into the postseason. They are now the 11th team in the last 40 years to open with at least 26 wins. Notably, none of the previous 10 have won a national title. Some were never going to - like St. Joe's, Wichita State or Indiana State. There have been some big-time failures from unbeaten teams, though - Kentucky stumbled after 38 wins in 2015, UNLV seemed invincible winning 34 straight in 1991, and Illinois was very legitimate with 29 wins in 2004.
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The questions for the Bulldogs are obvious - how long can they keep winning, and are they legitimately this good or are the more like the unbeaten also-rans?
For casual bettors and fans, the lure of an unbeaten season is an intriguing one. For more seasoned bettors, though, it provides all sorts of challenges and factors that you need to be aware of as you deal with the Bulldogs the rest of the way this year. Here are six:
Easier motivation for opponents: The Bulldogs will have a massive target on their backs for every game going forward. The easiest motivation a coach can use for his team is the chance to knock down a giant, and ending an unbeaten season would certainly get attention. There will be no rest days for this team going forward, because even a weak opponent will give them everything they possibly can.
Attracts public bettors: Casual public bettors aren't sophisticated, so they are attracted by big, flashy things. When they hear that the Bulldogs are unbeaten, they are going to back them enthusiastically in most spots without even considering things like the matchup, how strong their unbeaten record actually is, and so on. Each win will increase the public betting attention - both because of the increased win total and because each game gets us closer to the glorious college basketball postseason when casual bettors really increase their attention. Whenever the public is betting, you need to be very aware of how the lines are set and how they move because oddsmakers will do everything they can to maximize their edge against these bettors whenever possible.
How many of the wins were in question?: I have tremendous respect for this Gonzaga program, and this team in particular. We need to be objective about this schedule and what the record actually means In terms of beating teams that were ranked when they played. They have overcome Iowa State, Arizona, and St. Mary's twice. That's it. None of those squads are viewed as truly elite contenders. And it's not like they have played a lot of underappreciated squads, either. This has not been a tough schedule. While they get credit for winning every one - and most handily - we still have to recognize that a whole of teams have played a tougher schedule and that several top teams have losses that are at least as impressive as any of Gonzaga's wins. In other words, respect the record, but don't be fooled by it.
They decide how much it impacts them: At this point Mark Few and his coaching staff get to determine how much this streak matters. For some teams it is just something that exists, but it doesn't control them. For others, though, the streak builds a momentum of its own, and it crushes the team under its own weight. The reality is that this is within a loss or two of what the team would have expected anyway given the softness of their schedule, so there is a decent chance that this really won't have that much of an impact on the team - or at least that it will matter more to the media and the public than it does to the squad. In a different situation with a different coach - like with St. Joe's back in the day, for example - I'd be far more concerned about the mental aspect of continuous winning getting in the way of the team.
Past records don't matter when tipoff happens: This is obvious, but it's still so important to reinforce. The record of teams doesn't have any impact on actual games played. Don't let things like this matter more than how teams match up on the court when you are handicapping games.
ATS warriors: More impressive by far than the record is how this team has performed against the spread. At 18-4-1 ATS they are, by a wide margin, the most profitable team in the country. To cover spreads that well while being favored in every game, and by double digits 17 times, and while you are the highest-profile team by far in all but one or two of your games, is truly remarkable. In three of the four games they haven't covered they still won by 19, 20 and 21 points. This is a team that is never comfortable with a lead and that plays to the buzzer.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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