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#11 seed GONZAGA BULLDOGS (19-14) vs. #6 seed ST. JOHN’S RED STORM (21-11)
NCAA Tournament – Second Round
Tip-off: Thursday, 9:45 p.m. ET – Denver, CO
Line: St. John’s -1, Total: 135
Gonzaga versus St. John’s is a matchup of teams with two distinctly different NCAA histories, recently speaking.
The Bulldogs have been to each and every NCAA party since 1999, dancing its way from tournament Cinderella in the late 90’s to perennial attendees today. If the ’Zags have been the annual party people, St. John’s on the other hand has been a tournament home body. The Johnnies, longtime strangers to all this madness nonsense, will be making their first tournament appearance on Thursday night since 2002, when they lost in the first round to Wisconsin.
The closest thing that these two teams may have in common is a little bit of history. In 2000 Gonzaga and St. John’s met in the second round of the West Regional. Gonzaga (#10 seed) defeated the Big East champion Red Storm (#2 seed) that year, 82-76. 2000 was also the last year that the Red Storm won a tournament game. Now Steve Lavin has the program back to respectability, and will be trying to add onto an already impressive ‘10-11 resume that saw the school go from 17 wins to 21 (and counting?) and from 6-12 in league play last season, to 12-6 this year.
You don’t make the tournament 13 straight times without getting hot at the right time of year, so it shouldn’t’ be surprising to see Gonzaga entering the tournament winners of nine straight and 11 of its last 12. Those numbers become even more impressive when you consider where Gonzaga was on December 11, when the ‘Zags were sitting at 4-5 following an 83-79 loss to Notre Dame in South Bend.
Shortly thereafter, quality out-of-conference wins over Baylor, Xavier and Oklahoma State got things back on track for Mark Few’s team, and from there it was a race to wrest control of the West Coast Conference back away from last year’s champ, Saint Mary’s. That battle was waged throughout the season, with the two teams splitting games, winning on each other’s home court. It came down to the conference title game, and the ‘Zags were up to the task, defeating the Gaels 75-63. Gonzaga is led by big 6-foot-5 senior guard Steven Gray (13.8 PPG, 3.8 APG, 1.7 SPG), who leads the team in scoring, assists, steals, collisions and floor burns.
Gray gets a big assist from 7-footer junior Robert Sacre (12.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.9 BPG) the team’s leading rebounder, and shot blocker. Sacre (pronounced Sock-cray) could pose a particular headache on the interior for the Red Storm’s big men, whose tallest players seeing regular playing time are only 6-foot-8. Sophomore Elias Harris (12.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG) is the third player scoring in double figures for the Bulldogs. Gonzaga’s guard play down the stretch was also impressive. Marquise Carter (5.9 PPG) averaged 14.5 PPG, made 13-of-15 FT, and committed just three total turnovers in the semifinal and championship games of the conference tournament. David Stockton provided key minutes off the bench subbing for Carter and Gray.
The Red Storm were sitting at 13-9, and 5-5 in conference play following a seven-point February 5 loss in Los Angeles to UCLA. They closed the regular season with a flurry, winning seven of their final eight games, including home victories over ranked teams Connecticut and Pittsburgh, and a road win over ranked Villanova. The Johnnies defeated five ranked teams in Madison Square Garden during the regular season, with the big head-turner being their 93-78 blowout of Duke on Jan. 30.
First team All-Big East player Dwight Hardy (18.0 PPG) led the team in scoring, seemingly saving his best for the biggest games. He scored 34 against ‘Nova, 33 versus UConn and 26 against Duke. Fellow senior Justin Brownlee (12.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG) is second on the team in scoring and rebounding. The concern for St. John’s entering this game isn’t who will take the court, but who will not.
Leading rebounder, and number two assist man, senior D.J. Kennedy (10.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.0 APG), tore his right ACL in the Big East Tournament loss last Thursday to Syracuse, ending his season and career at the school in heartbreaking fashion. Kennedy also led the team in steals with 56. Kennedy’s versatility as a passer, scorer, and defender will be sorely missed, especially on the interior, as Lavin’s crew will have to contain an energetic 7-footer without its top player on the glass. With Gonzaga averaging 37.4 rebounds per game to the Red Storm’s 32.8, the Johnnies have no choice but to outwork the ‘Zags in the paint. If they can’t, the Bulldogs could bulldoze the Red Storm en route to the second round.
Gonzaga is 12-8 ATS after an SU win, while St. John’s is 4-6 ATS after an SU loss. The Red Storm are also 6-10 ATS in non-home games, while Gonzaga is 8-6 ATS outside of their home gym.
GONZAGA is 11-3 ATS (78.6%, +7.7 Units) when playing against a good team (Win Pct. 60% to 80%) over the last 2 seasons. The average score was GONZAGA 73.3, OPPONENT 66.1 - (Rating = 1*).
GONZAGA is 17-6 ATS (73.9%, +10.4 Units) in road games after 2 straight games making 78% of their free throws or better since 1997. The average score was GONZAGA 80.6, OPPONENT 74.1 - (Rating = 1*).
This four-star trend advises a play on the Under.
GONZAGA is 11-1 UNDER (91.7%, +9.9 Units) versus good shooting teams - making >=45% of their shots this season. The average score was GONZAGA 69.5, OPPONENT 67.0 - (Rating = 4*).