If you had any doubts that the madness had already begun going into last night, you don’t anymore! Last night we saw the nation’s number one team, the Gonzaga Bulldogs, fall to the unranked Gaels of St Mary’s in the WCC conference tournament finals. This may go down as the biggest single upset of the season as the Zags had owned St Mary’s this year, sweeping the season series, including beating them by nearly fifty points earlier in the season in Spokane.
The loss puts the Zags claim for a number one seed in jeopardy just days before Selection Sunday. For the Gaels, it was win or go home for Randy Bennet’s squad, and they were up to the task. They held Gonzaga, the highest scoring team in the country, to just forty-seven points, on 37% shooting from the field. The crowd in Vegas, all Zags fans, were in shock as the Gaels celebrated on the Bulldogs home away from home floor.
We have been talking in the last couple of weeks how hard the selection process is going to be very tough this year as there are many deserving small conference schools that deserve bids, as well as ample big conference teams that are sure to get bids. When teams like St Mary’s, that would have never gotten an at-large bid, get into the tournament, it steals bids from other, more deserving teams. Sorry Lipscomb, sorry UNC Greensboro, sorry Furman. For today’s pick, we will head to Madison Square Garden for round one of the Big East tournament.
The Butler Bulldogs and the Providence Friars matchup in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden tonight, for a first-round matchup in the Big East tournament. Both of these teams are currently on the outside looking in for the Big Dance and would need a deep run to get on the selection committee’s radar.
The Friars swept the season series over the Bulldogs this year and would love to win and advance tonight to face top-ranked Villanova in the second round. The Friars are -1-point favorites. The game total over-under is set at 135.5-points. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:00 PM PST from MSG.
The Big East is down quite a bit over recent history. Right now, Joe Lunardi of ESPN has just four teams from the Big East dancing. But in reality, only Villanova and Marquette are locks, and both St John’s and Seton Hall could get left out of they can’t find a way to win a game in the Big East tournament. Georgetown and Creighton are both just outside the bubble, hoping to play their way into the field this week in New York City. Butler and Providence would both likely have to win the tournament to get in, but if one of them were to make a run to the finals, it could be enough to snatch a bid.
Providence has season sweeps over both St John’s and Butler, but besides those wins, quality wins are few and far between for the Friars. They did beat Seton Hall at home in early January, and they beat Texas in the non-conference way back in December. But that’s pretty much it.
The Friars are a plodding, low scoring team, that struggle to shoot the ball. But they do feature one of the better players in the Big East in Alpha Diallo. Diallo is going for sixteen points, eight rebounds, and three assists a game, making the junior guard one of the most versatile players in the league. The guy plays huge minutes, and the Friars are going to need a big effort out of him tonight if they want to beat the Bulldogs for a third time this season.
The Bulldogs have a similar record as the Friars, but they have some higher quality wins. They beat Florida, Mississippi, Creighton, St John’s, and Georgetown. The issue for the Bulldogs hasn’t been their ability to beat decent teams, it has been the fact that they can’t stay consistent and beat the teams they are better than. Losses to Saint Louis, Dayton, and Providence twice are keeping the Bulldogs out of the tournament.
With the various conference tournaments in full swing, we are seeing lots of games between teams that have already played twice this season. We have lots of data on this matchup, and all that data tells us that the Friars just seem to have the Bulldog’s number. What makes this series even more unique, is that they have played both of their games in the last two weeks. After they meet today, they will have met three times in the course of just five games. So, not only do we have a lot of data to go off of, it is very current and relevant data.
So, who wins? When these teams matched up at Butler, the game was a thriller and went into overtime before the Friars used a big push in the extra period to win 73-67. The Bulldogs were held to just 31% shooting on their home floor. When the series shifted back to Providence, the Friars had a huge twenty-one-point lead at halftime and coasted to a blowout victory. Once again, the Bulldogs struggles to shoot and score the ball.
We saw with Gonzaga losing to St Mary’s last night, just how hard it is for a team to beat another team three times in one season. But I am not going to let that results distract me from the fact that Providence just seems to have Butler’s number. These teams rate out as very even, but after PC beat up on them just four days ago, I can’t expect anything else than a repeat of that performance.
The Big East tournament is always fun and unpredictable, but to see the Friars as just one-point favorites after they beat the Bulldogs twice by an average of nine points, I have no choice but to back PC. Give me the Providence Friars laying -1-point from MSG tonight!