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The Saint Mary’s Gaels and VCU Rams will battle in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament.
This is an epic matchup to begin March Madness in the West Region, as these teams are closer on paper than the seeding shows.
Saint Mary’s drew a five seed after losing to Gonzaga in the WCC Final, while VCU was given a 12 seed following their comeback in the Atlantic 10 title game over Dayton. We’re expecting an extremely competitive game between these two 1st round foes.
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The primary knock on Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga is that they don’t play a competitive schedule in the West Coast Conference. This statement has validity, but they consistently find their way to the NCAA Tournament 1st Round, which is a massive achievement. Saint Mary’s was embarrassed by Gonzaga in the WCC Championship Game, losing by 26 points. Yet, they still finished 26-7 and were profitable for bettors with a 19-13 mark against the spread.
Saint Mary’s plays a slower tempo of basketball, but their efficiency makes them special. When they force opponents into Saint Mary’s brand of physical basketball, it tends to go down as a win.
The team is averaging 71.4 points per game, which is nothing special. Yet, they take advantage of every possession, and this is clear by their field goal percentage. The Gaels are shooting 46.
Saint Mary’s has an excellent core of players that lead their team. The trio involves Logan Johnson, Adian Mahaney, and Alex Ducas. Johnson and Ducas are seniors, while Mahaney is a freshman. He has made multiple big shots for the Gaels this season, which is impressive for his age.
Despite this, the primary leader of the team is Johnson. The 6’2” senior guard does everything well, and it has shown in his production. He’s averaging 14.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. The one flaw in his game is three-point shooting, as he only shoots 30.6%. Johnson is best from mid-range and when he can drive to the hoop.
VCU had a comeback for the ages in the Atlantic 10 Championship over Dayton. Their win showed that anything could happen in March Madness. The Rams went into the locker room down six at the half, and this deficit grew to double digits in the opening minutes of the second half.
However, a switch flipped for VCU after a quick timeout as they outscored Dayton by 18 in the second half. A big reason for this success was three-point dominance. VCU shot 47.1% from beyond the arch, which was better than their percentage from the field as a whole. If VCU can make threes, they have a great chance to be competitive in the NCAA Tournament.
The three-point success hasn’t been how the Rams won in 2022-23. They rank 17th in the KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which is exceptional. Defense is the most important indicator of winning during March Madness, and Mike Rhodes’ team fits the mold.
Adrian Baldwin was the spark that ignited the Rams in the conference championship game. He had 16 points and didn’t sit for a single minute of the title. Baldwin is great because he is a natural scorer who is also exceptional at quarterbacking an offense.
He is 13th in the nation with 5.9 assists per game. He is efficient when he needs to make shots, but the guard makes his teammate shine. These types of players are critical for winning in the NCAA Tournament. The post presence to watch for VCU is Jalen Delooach, who is averaging seven rebounds per game.
The 6’9” sophomore takes advantage of every opportunity he receives. The forward is shooting just under 57% from the field and helped his team get to the 1st Round with a double-double in the A10 Championship.
Check Out the WSN NCAA Tournament Page: Game Preview For Every NCAA Tournament Game.
For VCU to be competitive in this game, they must control the pace of the game. When Saint Mary’s is at their best, they control the tempo. Their style of play is slow and constricting, which is deadly because of their efficiency. When they take shots, they tend to make shots, and not every team can match this style. It’s why Saint Mary’s has been so dominant in the WCC this season outside of their final game against Gonzaga.
VCU presents some issues for Saint Mary’s because of its defensive efficiency. The three-point usage they needed to beat Dayton isn’t their typical playing style. They also force teams into taking tough shots, which often don’t go in the hoop.
The combination of these two teams is making us lean toward the under. The total is set at 123, which is very low. However, these teams could easily post a total of around 110 points, and we wouldn’t think twice. Saint Mary’s slow pace against a great defensive team in VCU is why we like the under of 123.
This game will also be played at 2:00 p.m. ET on a Friday, which is an adverse situation to what these teams typically face. Additionally, it’s a high-pressure situation where we could see a slow start.
Location: MVP Arena
Game Time & Date: MAR. 17 @ 2:00 p.m. ET
TV Network: TBS
Streaming: March Madness Live App
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Tanner Kern has been working in the betting industry since 2020. He currently is a social media content creator at DraftKings and contributes to multiple sites in addition to WSN, including Forbes and VSiN. He is also the cohost of the podcast Ride the Line at WSN.More info on Tanner Kern
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