The Daily Sweat: Gonzaga, Saint Mary's set for another showdown, this time in WCC tournament final
After multiple seasons as one of the biggest storylines in men's college basketball, Gonzaga is sort of flying under the radar this season.
The Bulldogs are 27-5 and ranked No. 9 in the country, a slight step back compared to some of the epic seasons they’ve put together recently. The Bulldogs actually finished as the West Coast Conference regular season co-champions with Saint Mary’s, snapping a streak of 10 straight outright league crowns.
Saint Mary’s has had a tremendous season and rose as high as No. 15 in the AP poll after knocking off Gonzaga in overtime on Feb. 4. A few weeks later, though, Gonzaga got revenge. The Gaels had a chance to win the outright WCC regular season title for the first time since 2012, but Gonzaga won 77-68 in Spokane.
It’ll be Round 3 on Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs and Gaels are set to meet in the WCC tournament final with an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament on the line. Both teams are locks to make it to March Madness, but this game holds significant bragging rights.
Gonzaga is favored by 2.5 points at BetMGM, with the total set at 138.5. There’s no surefire first-round pick on this Gonzaga roster like Chet Holmgren or Jalen Suggs, but this group sure feels like it is hitting its stride at the right time. Drew Timme is still playing at an All-American level and has three other veteran teammates — Julian Strawther, Anton Watson and Rasir Bolton — averaging double figures in scoring.
On the other side, the Gaels are led by guard play. Aidan Mahaney has had a fantastic freshman season and he gets plenty of help in the backcourt from Logan Johnson and Alex Ducas. Saint Mary’s also has an imposing low-post presence in Mitchell Saxen to match up with Timme.
Gonzaga enters this matchup on an eight-game winning streak and is widely projected to be a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Without so much spotlight and pressure, perhaps the Bulldogs are poised to make another deep run in the tournament.
3 other NCAA tournament berths on the line
In addition to the aforementioned WCC final, there are three other NCAA tournament berths at stake on Tuesday.
In the Horizon League, Northern Kentucky is a 2.5-point favorite over Cleveland State after knocking off No. 1 seed Youngstown State in the semifinals.
In the CAA, Charleston is seen by some as a potential at-large team. The Cougars won’t have to worry about that if they take care of UNC Wilmington on Tuesday night. Charleston, which is 30-3 on the year, is favored by 9.5 points at BetMGM.
And in the Summit League, there’s a chance for a big upset as Oral Roberts faces off with North Dakota State. NDSU upset South Dakota State in the semifinals and is now a 10-point underdog in the title game against Oral Roberts. ORU has two players you should be aware of: guard Max Abmas and 7-foot-5 center Connor Vanover. On the other side is NDSU’s Grant Nelson. The 6-foot-11 Nelson is on the radar of NBA scouts and is coming off a 20-point, 22-rebound effort on Monday night.
Other conference tournament action
While leagues like the America East, Southland and Big Sky will all play tournament semifinals, both the Atlantic 10 and ACC tournaments will begin on Tuesday.
One team to keep an eye on in the ACC is Virginia Tech. The Hokies went on an incredible run and won the ACC tournament last fall but are the No. 11 seed this season. Can they do it again? They open conference tournament play against Notre Dame and are favored by 6.5 points. The Fighting Irish are looking to keep their season going with longtime head coach Mike Brey on his way out.
It’s the best time of the year with so many of these games starting early in the afternoon. In fact, the first game of the A-10 tournament — UMass vs. Richmond (-2.5) — tips off at 11:30 a.m. ET. How great is that?
What about the NBA?
There are eight games on the schedule in the NBA on Tuesday night. Included in that bunch are the Philadelphia 76ers traveling to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second night of a back-to-back. Philly, after a high-scoring 147-143 win over the Indiana Pacers on Monday, is a 2.5-point underdog.
Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Lakers are 1.5-point home favorites over the Memphis Grizzlies. While Memphis will be without Ja Morant due to his suspension, the Lakers are trying to stay in playoff contention with LeBron James sidelined due to a foot injury.
What's the best bet?
There are a few college basketball games I like.
In the A-10, I like La Salle to cover 1.5 points over Rhode Island. And in the ACC, I think Boston College cruises past Louisville. I'll lay the 4 with BC.