At this point in the college basketball season, it has become pretty clear: It’s Gonzaga and Baylor, and everyone else.
Here at BetRivers.com, we are going to take a look at how those two teams can be beaten, the matchups for you to look out for and where their downfall could end up happening in March.
We start with the Gonzaga odds preview.
GONZAGA ODDS PREVIEW: HOW TO BET ON THE BULLDOGS
First things first with Gonzaga odds: No team in the history of KenPom’s database has ever had a higher adjusted efficiency margin that the Zags do this season. As of today, the gap between them and Baylor is larger than the gap between Kentucky and the field was back in 2015, when the Wildcats nearly went undefeated, losing in the Final Four.
The Zags entered the 2020-2021 season +750 to win the NCAA Championship, the shortest odds of any team in the country, with Baylor (+800) not far behind. As of February 20, Gonzaga is +275 to win the NCAA Championship with Baylor (+250) now holding the shortest odds. But the public is firmly backing the Bulldogs thanks to 36.2% of the total futures handle. Baylor, by comparison, is backed by just 10.8% of the total futures handle. Click here for all the latest NCAA Tournament odds and futures.
I know that Gonzaga is from the WCC, and I know that they have spent the last two months treating conference opponents the way my cat treats the mice she catches, but this really could end up being the best college basketball team that we’ve seen since, what, the Duke teams of the early-00s? They have three potential All-Americans on their roster, two of whom could end up being lottery picks. Their fourth- and fifth-best players were a McDonald’s All-American that started in the SEC for two seasons, and a guy that will one day end up playing on the French national team. Both of those guys, by the way, are 6-foot-5 point guards.
I’m not sure if they actually can be beaten this season. By anyone.
But there is a formula to take them down, and to understand that you need to understand what Mark Few wants his offense to do.
Gonzaga wants to run. They always want to push in transition, but in a season where their best lineup features three lead guards, a five-man that can handle the ball, and the best shooter in the sport, Fewy has this team running as hard and as fast as ever. They’re looking to hit Drew Timme beating his man down the floor. They’re looking to hit wings with hit-ahead passes. They’re looking to get Jalen Suggs downhill going to the rim. They’re looking to find Corey Kispert getting lost and spotting up with time and space.
So the single-most-important this a team needs to do to beat Gonzaga is to take that transition game away. They’re not easy to stop in the halfcourt, but they’re a helluva lot easier to stop when your defense is set.
The next part of what Gonzaga wants to do is to get into their ball-screen continuity offense, running it until they can either get a look out of the screen or find a way to get Drew Timme ducking in for a postup. They have three guards on their roster that are terrific at orchestrating ball-screens, and Timme is one of the best rollers and sealers in college hoops.
So once you slow them down in the halfcourt, you’ll need to be disciplined and well-drilled in defending all of those ball-screens, over and over again.
And even if you force a miss, the Zags can get to the offense glass.
So you have to be able to finish possessions as well.
Then, if that works, you need to be able to score on what currently ranks as the sixth-best defense in the country.
Here’s the proof: In theory, the team in the country that is the best matchup for Gonzaga is Virginia. They don’t attack the offensive glass. They build their entire defensive system around preventing transition and post touches. They are very good on the defensive glass. They lost by 23. Saint Mary’s is also a very good matchup stylistically, they just don’t have the talent for it.
So who else fits?
Michigan makes a lot of sense. They can match up with Timme inside. They have the big wings to be able to be switchable on the perimeter. They rebound. They don’t have to run. But blindly picking the third-best team in the country feels like a cop-out.
I’ll add in three more.
- Loyola-Chicago: The Ramblers have the nation’s best defense, according to KenPom. They play at the 354th-fastest pace. They are top ten in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. They are well coached. They do a good job limiting assists and taking you out of your offense. Oh, and they aren’t just some mid-major. They have some athleticism in the paint, they have a five-man that pass the rock in Cam Krutwig and they can shoot it. Loyola is dangerous.
- Houston: I know the Cougars just took a loss to Wichita State on Thursday, but this is a team that checks a lot of boxes. They are well-coached, they have really good guards, they are tough on the glass, they defend and they play at a sub-300 pace. The big question, however, is whether or not their ranking is currently inflated.
- Wisconsin: I know, this is gross, but if Virginia and Saint Mary’s make sense stylistically, then Wisconsin does, too.