The Gonzaga Bulldogs will take their top four ranking on the road with them tonight as they head to Provo to play the Cougars of BYU. This is likely the last major hurdle for the Zags as they look to run the table in WCC league play. Gonzaga currently has the longest road winning streak in conference play in the country, at twenty-seven straight wins. That streak will be on the line tonight.
For the Cougars, they badly need a signature win to add to their resume if they want any shot at an at-large bid to the tournament this year. While the Cougars have remained competitive this season, they just don’t have the complete body of work at this point to justify a slot in the Big Dance. The Zags are -14-point road favorites. The game total over-under is set at 164 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:00 PM PST from the Marriot Center in Provo.
We knew this Gonzaga Bulldogs team would be good this year, but as we start seeing the season winding to a close, they just might even be better than we all thought. The non-conference wins over Arizona, Duke, and Washington are all looking even better than they did at the time, and this team is absolutely steamrolling through league play. During this recent tem game winning streak, their average margin of victory is over thirty-six points a game.
What has spurred this recent rash of domination for Gonzaga? Well, it helps that they aren’t playing top ten teams anymore, as the WCC just doesn’t offer the same level of competition as the Zags faced in the non-conference. But the real key for this Bulldogs team is the fact that they are finally healthy. Gonzaga played without what just might be their best player, Kilian Tillie, for nearly all of the non-conference schedule. That didn’t stop the Zags from running up an elite record, including spending a couple of weeks ranked as the nation’s top team.
But now that Tillie is back, this team looks unbeatable. Their last game? They won by fifty-nine points on the road at Santa Clara. A month ago, they beat Denver by sixty-one. This team isn’t just winning, they are annihilating teams. And they are doing it right with Tillie as they are easing him back very slowly. The big man is averaging just over nineteen minutes a game but is playing well in limited action. Tillie is averaging seven points and over five boards a game. Once they get Tillie back to playing full-time minutes, he should be close to averaging a double-double and his presence on the floor makes the Zags a legit national title contender.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs have always seemed to struggle somewhat with BYU since the Cougars left the MWC to join the WCC several years ago. It seems that no matter how good this Zags team is, and there have been some really great Zags teams in recent history, the Cougars always give them a run for their money. And while this BYU team is down this year, they still have some high-level talent on the roster. Cougars forward Yoeli Childs is leading the WCC in scoring and rebounds and is the favorite for POY in the conference.
The non-conference slate was a tough one for BYU as they had losses to Nevada, Houston, and Mississippi State early on. Each of those losses aren’t bad ones as those three teams have been ranked all season long and should be well inside the field of sixty-eight come Selection Sunday. But the losses to bad teams like Illinois State, Weber State, UNLV, and San Diego State are hard to explain.
The issue for the Cougars has been consistency on the defensive side of the court. This team has no trouble scoring on a nightly basis, in fact, they are one of the higher scoring teams in the nation at eighty-two points a game. The problem is, they can’t defend the ball. Kenpom has them ranked as the 205th best defense in the country. We saw just how bad this defense can be when they gave up 113 points to Weber State, or when they gave up 103 points to Mississippi State.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs are going to threaten to score 100-points in this one. And as impressive as a feat that is for most teams, this Zags team leads the nation at over ninety-one points a game, so it wouldn’t at all be a stretch to see them drop triple figures on the Cougars, even on the road. So, when I look at the game total, I am surprised to see it so low, at just 164 points.
I think both teams will be able to score at will in this game. Yeah, the Zags have seemingly gotten their act together on defense after getting torched by North Carolina for 103 points in their last losing game over a month ago, but they always seem to struggle in Provo. I think the Cougars will hang with the Zags and give them all they can handle in this one. It wouldn’t at all shock me to see this game sail right past the over and end up in the 180’s or 190’s by the time it is all said and done. So, I will take the over 164-points tonight and expect a shootout in Utah! Give me the over 164 points tonight from Provo!