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Many mid-major conference tournaments are well underway, but most of the high majors start this upcoming week, wrapping up right before Selection Sunday! There is a lot on the line in the next week and every game matters, even for teams that are already in great shape for an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament.
One example is a team moving up from a projected No. 5 seed to a No. 4 seed for the NCAA Tournament by securing a few wins toward the end of the season. Since the No. 5 seed are notorious for being upset by No. 12 seeds, every game is crucial, even for teams that are already a lock for “The Big Dance.”
Check out these two marquee matchups in the West Coast Conference tournament below, featuring the BYU Cougars versus Saint Mary's Gaels and San Francisco Dons versus Gonzaga Bulldogs, to see our best bets for them!
When: 9:00 PM EST
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After losing two of their top scorers last season, there is no way anyone predicted that the Saint Mary’s Gaels would come back and be even better than they were during the 2021-22 campaign. Logan Johnson and Alex Ducas have stepped up in a major way, but it has been freshman sensation Aidan Mahaney who has made all the difference between being a good team versus being a great one!
Mahaney averages close to 15 points per game on 41% from behind the arc. As a team, Saint Mary’s shoots close to 37% from deep, a really solid mark. Still, the Gaels’ identity is on the other side of the floor, where they rank fifth in adjusted defensive efficiency. KenPom has this team as the seventh-best in the nation at the moment, factoring in strength of schedule in conference and non-conference play. What is clear is they are elite no matter the competition level!
Meanwhile, BYU has had a volatile season, at times looking like a WCC dark horse, and at others, appearing just average. The Cougars have had brilliant flashes; their win against Creighton comes to mind. They have also had some narrow losses to elite opponents, including one-point losses to both Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.
The Cougars were not that far off from being the type of team that squeaks into March Madness as an at-large bid and makes some noise; if they won those narrow games and perhaps, a few others, this might be a different conversation. Unfortunately, that did not happen, but they still have a shot if they win the next two games and secure an automatic bid.
So, can BYU pull out an upset over Saint Mary’s?
While I don’t see the Cougars getting the upset here, they have kept both games with the Gaels close (a one-point loss and a six-point loss.) Frankly, 7.5 points is a significant amount to give to a team that just won both of their first two tournament games by double-digits. Additionally, I love that BYU doesn’t lean too heavily on any one player on the offensive end; it has a few different players capable of posting 20 points per game in the right situation, which is necessary against this stout Gaels defense. I’ll ride with BYU plus the points.
When: 11:30 PM EST
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If you are located on the east coast, I hope you plan to stay up late to watch this battle between the San Francisco Dons and the Gonzaga Bulldogs; there is nothing like some late-night basketball in March!
After a slower-than-usual start to the 2022-23 season, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have turned things around quite a bit, winning seven-straight games and ten of their past 11. The Bulldogs’ only loss during that stretch came on the road against the No. 1-seeded Saint Mary’s Gaels, who rank seventh in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, an incredible mark for a mid-major team!
The Bulldogs rank first in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric; it was clear at the beginning of the season that they were going to have an elite attack on that end of the floor with All-American Drew Timme back in the mix. The ‘Zags also brought Julian Strawther, Rasir Bolton, Anton Watson, and Nolan Hickman back, while corralling in Malachi Smith as a transfer.
What we did not expect was Gonzaga’s horrible defense, which ranks just 87th in adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation. The potential danger for Gonzaga in not only this game, but in future tournament games, is how it can allow opponents to get hot due to its lackadaisical defense. The Dons certainly have the capability to get hot; they dropped 93 points in their last game against Santa Clara.
The “X Factor” in San Francisco’s last game was its best player, Khalil Shabazz, who posted 38 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. These are outrageous numbers for a college player. Despite being streaky at times, Shabazz can get very, very hot; he could certainly put together another masterclass in scoring against the ‘Zags.
These two teams have already battled twice this season, with Gonzaga winning both matchups; however, the Dons lost by just two points when they hosted the Bulldogs in early January. Does San Francisco have a chance to pull off an upset here?
I don’t believe that San Francisco gets the win in this spot, but 13 points is way too wide of a margin for a game with such high stakes. A win for the Dons can put them one game closer to an unexpected NCAA Tournament birth. They are going to give it all they have, and Shabazz could carry that momentum from last game into this one.
Andrew has always been an avid sports fan and followed his hoop dreams all the way to college. He’s well-versed in everything betting with multiple years of experience and is qualitatively and quantitatively knowledgeable in sports statistics and analytics.More info on Andrew Norton
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