Gonzaga Bulldogs -2 vs. St. Mary’s Gaels — WCC Conference Championship Game
There is a ton more to play for tonight that simply the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. In fact, at 25-5 and 26-5 respectively, neither of these teams needs to concern themselves with earning an invite to the grand ball; their concern at this point is more seeding focused. Yet, seeding isn’t really the reason tonight’s game is special either. It is about far more than that.
Tonight is an incredibly symbolic test to see whether or not St. Mary’s can truly slay the decade-long WCC Goliath that is the Gonzaga Bulldogs and assert themselves as a truly premier program in the mid-major ranks. Gonzaga had their streak of eleven straight regular season conference championships snapped by conference player of the year Matthew Delavedova and the Gaels already this season – now it’s time to find out if St. Mary’s can make it a clean sweep.
The two split their regular season matchups, each winning by a comfortable margin on their own floor; Gonzaga by 14, St. Mary’s by 21. This matchup, fittingly, will be played on a neutral floor in Las Vegas, where the local bookmakers have lined up with the status quo and installed the Zags as a two and a half point favorite.
Gonzaga enters the game playing its best basketball of the season, winners of eight of nine, including three double digit wins over St. Mary’s and BYU twice. In fact, their only loss during this run was the inexplicable one-point loss San Francisco which ended up costing them a share of their 12th consecutive WCC regular season crown. Saturday, the Zags looked fantastic, pummeling a good BYU team in the conference semi-finals behind a thirty point explosion from freshman sensation Kevin Pangos. In fact, it is Pangos’ emergence that gives Gonzaga the edge in tonight’s contest. Back in early January, the Zags didn’t have an answer for Delavedova. They do now. In fact, it is St. Mary’s that might be concerned with what their answer is for Pangos.
St. Mary’s had the college basketball world on a string just five weeks ago. They were 22-2, wins over BYU, Gonzaga and unbeaten in WCC play. Then, they started to show some signs of weakness. Gonzaga rolled them up in the Kennel (no real shame in that), followed by a blowout home loss to Loyola Marymount. Then came a disappointing blowout national TV loss in their Bracket Buster matchup with Murray State, and now there is real cause for concern in St. Mary’s. Even their less-than-convincing semi-final win over San Francisco raised more questions than it provided answers.
Talent-wise, I give the edge to Gonzaga. Momentum-wise? Also Gonzaga. Add in a neutral floor and a well-traveled Zag contingent, and I think it is going to be a little too much for St. Mary’s to overcome. I like the Zags tonight covering the two with a little room to spare.
Free Pick: Gonzaga Bulldogs -2