Everybody remembers Gonzaga’s remarkable run to the NCAA championship game last season where they ultimately fell 65-71 to North Carolina. Coach Mark Few lost three starters from that team and a freshman sixth man in Zach Collins who opted to go pro and was taken 10th in the NBA draft. It would make sense that hopes weren’t too high for this season, but here the ‘Zags are in the 3/17 NCAA tournament free pick, favored over Ohio State with a great chance of making the Sweet 16. Gonzaga may have lost players, but they’re still pretty talented. OSU rolls with the Big Ten player of the year in Keita Bates-Diop…what gives in Saturday night’s contest?
Holtzman’s Crew Ready For an “Upset?”
If there’s one major disadvantage working against Ohio State in the 3/17 NCAA tournament free pick it’s that coach Chris Holtzman is in just his first year with the program. It’s not that Holtzman is a ‘newb’ to the game as a whole – he took Butler to the tourney the past three seasons – but most of his players are inherited and not recruited. It’s not like OSU had a bad year either – they were 25-8 and were in the hunt for a conference championship – but not many people are giving the Buckeyes a chance tonight hence the OSU +4 line.
Interestingly enough Gonzaga and OSU have already met up this year with the Bulldogs dominating in an 86-59 contest back in late November. That contest in the PK80 classic wasn’t really indicative of how good a team the Buckeyes are. They were playing in Holtzman’s fifth game with the program and were playing in Portland, which is a 5 hour trip for Gonzaga compared to 2400 miles from Columbus. In order to duplicate that game Gonzaga will have to shoot nearly 60% from the field while holding Bates-Diop to 7 points as they did in that contest. OSU has dropped three of six heading into this game, but they in no way feel that they’re underdogs heading into Saturday night.
Zags Have Retained Some Star Power
Sure Gonzaga lost three starters and an NBA lottery pick from last year’s championship game but the two players who had the best offensive rating both return with a vengeance. Senior forward Johnathan Williams went for 19 points and 13 rebounds in the first round win over UNC-Greensboro. Junior point guard Josh Perkins is one of the highest rated recruits in the program’s history and put up 20 against OSU in the first meeting. Senior SG Silas Melson adds some veteran experience while freshman Zach Norvell has given the normally buttoned up Zags some moxie.
Gonzaga may have struggled by many people’s expectations when they beat UNC-Greensboro 68-64 in the first round as -12.5 favorites. Believe it or not the Zags may match up better with the higher ranked Buckeyes in the second round 3/17 NCAA tournament free pick. Gonzaga is built around their big men including the 6’9″ Williams, 6’10” Killian Tillie, and 6’8″ Rui Hachimura. The Buckeyes like to force it inside to especially with the 6’7″ Bates-Diop and 6’9″ 270 pound Kaleb Wesson. While the inside game is usually the Buckeyes M.O, South Dakota State forced them to pick up the pace in the first round. The OSU back court responded nicely however as C.J Jackson and Kam Williams combined for 42 points. At the very least, Ohio State showed versatility.
3/17 NCAA Tournament Free Pick Betting
The line for Saturday night’s game has jumped up a full 2 points to GONZ -4.5 after a -2.5 open. The Zags are the 6th most popular bet of the day with over 70% of the public preferring Few’s tournament experience over the Buckeyes. It’s pretty easy to like the Bulldogs in this one – they are 7th in the country in field goal shooting on offense while top 25 in their opponents field goals on defense. Nobody likes to back a majority bet but the truth is Gonzaga is bigger, deeper, and has been here before. The Zags have six players that average over 9 points per game while Ohio State got 7 total points from their bench in the first round. Gonzaga pulls away in the end.
Free Pick: Gonzaga Bulldogs -4.5