The Gonzaga Bulldogs, the number three team in the land, host the Tigers of Texas Southern tonight in a non-conference matchup from The Kennel in Spokane, Washington. Mark Few has what might be his best team ever, and that is saying a lot for a program that has made twenty consecutive NCAA tournaments. The Zags are absolutely loaded with size, experience, and NBA first-round level talent. Texas Southern comes into this matchup 1-0, after a shocking upset win against Baylor in their opening game of the season.
The Zags are -27.5-point home favorites. The game total over-under is set at 156 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 PM PST from the McCarthy Athletic Center in Spokane, Washington.
What else can be said about this Gonzaga team that hasn’t already been said? They are stacked with talent and showed just how good they are in their first game when they dropped 120 points against Idaho State. The 120-point explosion was the highest point total they have ever achieved in Few’s nineteen years at the helm.
The breakout performance came from Rui Hachimura who is expected to lead this team to the promise land this year. Hachimura is a first-round NBA level talent and showed it against Idaho State where he scored 33 points on 13-18 shooting. Die-hard Zags fans have been waiting for Few to take the handcuffs off of Rui since his freshman year and if their first game was any indication, Rui is going to be unleashed this season. He could compete for National Player of the Year honors, he is that talented.
The one downside right now for Gonzaga is they have lost big man Killian Tillie for two months to injury. Tillie is another experienced NBA level guy that can score from anywhere on the floor, and he will be sorely missed in the rotation for Gonzaga. But if there is a silver lining for the Zags with Tillie going down, it is that they will be able to get recent transfer Brandon Clarke into the rotation right away. Clarke had a solid debut in his first game in Spokane as he scored 15 points and ripped down 9 boards on a very efficient 6-8 shooting from the field.
If you haven’t heard the name Texas Southern in the last couple of seasons, let me get you up to speed. This basketball team is tasked with essentially earning all the revenue for the entire Texas Southern athletic program. So, what they have done is basically signed up to be the designated loser to big-time basketball programs. Last year the Tigers played their first thirteen games of their season, the entire non-conference schedule, on the road.
They took on any and all comers, including Gonzaga, Kansas, Ohio State, Syracuse, Baylor, Oregon, and TCU. Their record after that murderer’s row of road games? 0-13. But they were surprisingly fairly competitive. After finishing up what was unarguably the toughest non-conference slate of any team, they finished the season 15-6 the rest of the way out and went on to qualify for the NCAA tournament after they won the SWAC Conference tournament.
Once they got to the tournament, they actually picked up a win in their first four contest against North Carolina Central before dropping in the round of sixty-four to top-seeded Xavier. This season, the Tigers have a similar schedule as once again they set out on the road to play a who’s who of major college basketball programs. They started their season out by shocking Baylor in their house earlier this week, which already gives them one more win than they got last year in the non-conference. They have upcoming games scheduled against Arizona State, Georgia, Iowa State, San Diego State, Oregon, and Texas A&M, once again, all on the road.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs are going to win this game. They don’t ever lose at home. In fact, since the McCarthy Athletic Center opened its doors fourteen years ago, Gonzaga has the highest home winning percentage in NCAA history at 92%. So, let’s just get that part out of the way right now, the Zags aren’t going to be on upset alert tonight at home. But, with a huge number to cover like -27.5, the Zags could blow this team out, and still not cover.
All a team has to do to cover a number like that as an underdog is be competitive for about ten minutes in the game. You just aren’t going to beat a team by thirty points unless the entire game goes your way from start to finish. If at any point the other team makes a run or gets hot, your cover is blown. And that is what I see happening tonight in Spokane.
The Tigers brought in a fairly big-time transfer from LSU Lalyen Patterson in eth offseason. Patterson scored 23 points and added in 6 assists, and 3 rebounds in the Tigers win at Baylor. So, there is reason to believe that this Southern Texas team is going to be much improved over last year’s team that made the NCAA tournament.
This Tigers team is as battle-tested as they can be, and I think they find a way to keep this game tight enough to cover the jumbo spread. These two teams played last season to open up the season, and the Zags pounded them, 97-69. I expect this year’s game to be just a tad closer, and see the Tigers sneaking out of Spokane with the cover. Give me the Texas Southern Tigers and the +27.5-points tonight!