We kept our postseason college basketball hot streak alive last night when we picked up yet another winner, to run our championship week and NCAA tournament record to a sizzling 12-5, that’s more than 70% winners. And last night’s pick might have been the sharpest one yet. I took the under 133.5 points in the Kentucky and Houston game and felt very good about our chances. I mentioned in my pick that I thought this was a first team to sixty points wins type of game and that is exactly what happened.
The Kentucky Wildcats were the first, and only team, to reach sixty points last night as they picked up the hard fought 62-58 victory. Both teams struggled to score the basketball as the defensive pressure was stifling on every trip down the floor. The first half came in well under, and when both teams came out slow to start the second half, our bet was a lock and we coasted the rest of the way in.
The Wildcats survived and advance to face the Auburn Tigers, who knocked off the North Carolina Tar Heels last night, on Sunday, for a chance to advance to the Final Four and play for a national title. For today’s pick we will break down the Elite Eight game between the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs are playing in their third Elite Eight in the last five years and are hoping to make it back to the Final Four for the second time in program history after making a run to the national finals in 2017. The Zags will have their hands full tonight though as they play a very good Texas Tech team, who themselves are playing in their second straight Elite Eight.
The Zags advanced to the Elite Eight by easily dispatching the Florida State Seminoles, 72-58, exacting their revenge after the ‘Noles knocked the Zags out of last year’s tournament in the Sweet 16. Brandon Clarke has been the breakout star of the tournament for Gonzaga as he has been a force on the defensive side of the ball as well as the leading scorer for the Bulldogs, at over twenty-one points a game.
For Texas Tech, they made their way to their second consecutive Elite Eight by playing their trademark brand of stingy defense. They held the number two seeded Michigan Wolverines to just forty-four points in their last game, blowing out Big Blue by nineteen points. The Zags are -4.5-point favorites. The game total over-under is set at 140 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 3:09 PM PST from the Honda Center in Anaheim.
Is this the year that Gonzaga head coach Mark Few finally breaks through and wins his first national title? Many people think so, as this seems to be the best team he has ever had in Spokane. The Zags have coasted through the tournament thus far as they have won each of their first three games by at least twelve points. The biggest difference between this Gonzaga team and the Zags teams of old? Defense.
Gonzaga can always score the basketball. And this season, they finished the season with the number one offense in college basketball. They scored nearly ninety points a game and lead the nation with over 55% shooting from the field. But it is the defensive side of the ball that has made the difference for Gonzaga this season. Gonzaga finished as the twelfth best defense in the country in terms of defensive efficiency per kenpom. That is a big turnaround for a team that generally tends to struggle of defense.
And the big driver of that success has big man Brandon Clarke. Clarke was a transfer from San Jose State and broke the Zags single season blocks record this year, averaging over three blocks a game. Clarke is a formidably presence in the paint, and he has thirteen blocks in tournament already. He is also averaging close to ten boards a game as well. He does the dirty work down low that a team needs if they want to win a national title.
Speaking of putting in work, Texas Tech superstar Jarrett Culver has done everything for the Red Raiders this year. Culver is expected to be a lottery pick in what is shaping up as one of the best lotteries in NBA history. Culver is a lock down defender, that led the nation’s top-rated defense this season. Not only has Texas Tech had the best defense in the country this year, it hasn’t even really been close. They have, by far, the best defense in the country, and they are sure to give the Zags fits tonight.
In Mark Few’s time at Gonzaga there has been one thing that has always been a thorn in his side. That is a swarming pressure defense. And this Texas Tech team might have the best defense he has ever faced. We are always quick to anoint the next big thing as the best ever, but those comparisons are valid for this Texas Tech team. The forty-four points they held Michigan to in the Sweet 16 was the lowest point total ever for a number two seeded team in the history of the tournament. Michigan made just one out of nineteen three pointers.
This is a strength on strength matchup if I have ever seen one. The nations best D versus the nation’s top scoring team. But in a spot like this, the defense usually reigns supreme. Gonzaga has shown that they can score on just about anyone, but tonight, they are in for a rude awakening. When I look at the game total, it is 140 points. That is a lot when you consider that both of these teams play elite defense.
If I had to take a firm stand, I think Gonzaga finds a way to win. It just feels like this is Gonzaga’s time to finally win the national title they have been chasing for the last two plus decades. But I think the safer play here, is the under. This just feels like a game that is going to play out in the mid-sixties. Every bucket is going to be hard to get, and I think this one stays under. Give me the under 140 points tonight form the Honda Center with a trip to the Final Four on the line!