St. Mary's - Gonzaga Championship Preview

GONZAGA HOPES TO CLINCH #1 SEED IN DANCE IN WEST COAST CHAMPIONSHIP VS. ST. MARY'S

There were some surprises and near-surprises along the way, but Monday Night's Championship Game of the West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas will feature the two teams everyone expected to get there. Gonzaga, still undefeated this year against WCC opponents is the favorite. League co-power St. Mary's is the underdog. Gonzaga is hoping to cement a #1 seed in the West regional in the Big Dance. St. Mary's thinks they're in, but a competitive result here would seal the deal.

Late Saturday Night, it looked like St. Mary's was in danger of backing onto the bubble. They had to score last to survive San Diego as 15-point favorites. That would have been a humiliating loss...and would have given fodder to skeptics of Western basketball who believe St. Mary's has been getting too much respect this year.

Gonzaga had a shaky half themselves, only leading Loyola Marymount by a point at halftime. Pretty amazing considering they were favored by 21 and Marymount was playing its fourth game in four nights! Gonzaga righted the ship and coasted to a win. BOTH St. Mary's and Gonzaga are likely to increase their performance levels after taking care of first night jitters in the staggered stair-step format of the event.

You'll be watching the game tonight on TV. If you live in Las Vegas, you may be attending LIVE! Let's run the matchup through our gauntlet of key indicators.

WON-LOST RECORDS
St. Mary's: 27-5 (14-2 in the West Coast Conference)
Gonzaga: 30-2 (16-0 in the West Coast Conference)

These teams swept the conference when not playing each other. St. Mary's just missed blowing that trend in the semifinals. Gonzaga did show clear superiority in head-to-head meetings, which is why they're the clear market favorite in tonight's finale.

COMPUTER RANKINGS
St. Mary's: #32 with Sagarin, #22 with Pomeroy
Gonzaga: #5 with Sagarin, #4 with Pomeroy

Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy both have Gonzaga as a legit contender for a #1 seed in the Dance...and both have St.Mary's comfortably into the NCAA Tournament given those rankings. Pomeroy would have St. Mary's as a #6 seed, with Sagarin slotting them more in the 8-9 range. It's interesting how many pundits are suggesting St. Mary's is still on the bubble because of resume concerns. The most respected computers say that's not an issue. Our proprietary rankings aren't as enthusiastic about St. Mary's as those computers are. We're generally skeptical of this league in the postseason, and we've been justified in that skepticism! But...even our less enthusiastic ratings would have St. Mary's squarely in the Dance.

COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS
St. Mary's: #126 with Sagarin, #113 with Pomeroy
Gonzaga: #101 with Sagarin, #98 with Pomeroy

This is the problem many are having with St. Mary's. They played a much weaker schedule than many of the other bubble teams. If you're ONLY look at strength of schedule issues on the resume...then St. Mary's is probably borderline. They got results, particularly when not playing Gonzaga!

WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN'S TOP 50
St. Mary's: 1-2
Gonzaga: 6-1

That's two losses to Gonzaga and a win otherwise. Gonzaga basically made itself a Big 12 team in non-conference action and performed consistently well. They did gag a road game at Butler that many of you watched on television. That will be a cause for concern in the Dance because Gonzaga isn't used to playing nailbiters and may now lack confidence in them. There are going to be nailbiters in the Dance. Teams like Gonzaga and Florida better figure out a way to execute their offenses late in close games.

JOE LUNARDI'S BRACKETOLOGY
St. Mary's: projected #9 seed
Gonzaga: projected #1 seed

Agreement here with the computers. Lunardi of ESPN sees Gonzaga as deserving of a #1 seed. It would probably take an upset loss here to knock them off of that perch. Even if...say...Georgetown AND Indiana AND Duke all had great conference tournament runs...Gonzaga would still get the nod over Kansas and recently shaky Florida most likely. St. Mary's is a virtual lock according to Lunardi, because you can't drop from #9 to out of the event based on only one late season loss. Even if St. Mary's gets routed Monday...their season is over...and they would have been routed by a great team.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS
St. Mary's: #11
Gonzaga: #4

Moving to the chess match. We do think the computers have overrated both of these offenses. Pomeroy's methodology accounts for strength of schedule and tempo. It's tough to perfect strength of schedule with such weak schedules! If you run up the score on patsies, you're going to grade out well even if you don't have the skillset to play sharp vs. quality. We'll accept "decent" as a descriptor for these offenses. Pomeroy overstates the case in our view.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS
St. Mary's: #73
Gonzaga: #20

Big problem here...because St. Mary's has a poor defensive ranking even before possible pollution puffs them up. This is why they struggle so badly vs. Gonzaga...and this is why we'd be looking to fade them in their first game in the Dance against most potential opponents. They will have one of the softest defenses of the top 40 seeds. Gonzaga probably isn't quite as good as that #20 would suggest given what's happened to Western basketball teams in the Dance. They typically play worse than their Pomeroy rankings would have suggested. Gonzaga's much better defensively than St. Mary's of course...but probably not truly competitive equal with other teams seeded in the 1-2-3 range in the Dance.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS
St. Mary's: #217
Gonzaga: #222

Both teams are slightly below average but far from being tortoises. Virtually identical pace factors consider the margin for error. Tournament basketball sometimes slows down. We would expect this game to have future possessions than the first two meetings barring a surprise overtime.

BEST EXPECTATION
Sometimes favorites come in overconfident. Sometimes they come in a bit fearful. Neither is great for covering spreads. Gonzaga tends to hit the right notes under this head coach until they run up against equal or superior teams in the Big Dance. Then, their weaknesses are exposed and they crumble before they were supposed to. Here, they're playing a soft defensive team they know how to beat. The question for handicappers...has the Vegas line properly captured that superiority or overstated it?

JIM HURLEY has some ideas about that...just like he does in Monday's other championship action. You can purchase tonight's basketball parlay right here at the website with your credit card. Whether you're talking football or basketball, Monday is the most important night of your wagering week!

If you have any questions about tonight's championship games...or the rest of our MARCH MADNESS package, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. This is the quietest night on the Championship Week schedule, which means this is the ideal time to talk through your options with one of our representatives. Don't let this week's money train leave the station without you!

Back with you Tuesday to look at the Big East tournament. We'll cover the three "deepest" tournaments with in-depth coverage midweek here in the NOTEBOOK:

Tuesday: Big East
Wednesday: Big 12
Thursday: Big 10

Then we'll showcase marquee matchups as they develop on the fly as the tournaments progress. Get the handicapping perspective here the NOTEBOOK...and the BIG MONEY BEST BETS from the biggest name in handicapping...

WHEN CHAMPIONSHIPS ARE ON THE LINE, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

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Nov

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