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**Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s**
--Another season and another WCC Tournament finals featuring Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga battling for the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. These bitter rivals will clash once again Monday night in Las Vegas at The Orleans Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 10:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
--As of 4:00 p.m. Eastern, most books had Gonzaga (30-2 straight up, 16-12-2 against the spread) favored by six with a total of 136. The Gaels are plus-240 on the money line (risk $100 to win $240).
--Mark Few’s team advanced to the finals by overcoming a sloppy first half to turn it on in the final 20 minutes en route to a 66-48 win over Loyola-Marymount. The Lions took the cash for the fourth straight time in four nights as 21-point underdogs. They trailed by only one at halftime, setting up an easy winner for those (like me) who took Gonzaga as an 11.5-point favorite for second-half plays (-12.5 adjusted). Elias Harris was the catalyst, needing only nine shots from the field to produce 21 points. Harris also pulled down eight rebounds, made two steals and blocked a pair of shots. Kevin Pangos was also in double figures with 14 points.
--Saint Mary’s (27-5 SU, 15-13-1 ATS) needed overtime to stave off San Diego’s upset bid in Saturday’s semifinals showdown. The Gaels prevailed 69-66 but never threatened to cover the spread as 15-point favorites. The Toreros had a double-digit lead at the under-12 television timeout, but Brad Waldow turned in a career-best performance to lead Randy Bennett’s team back. Waldow finished with a career-high 23 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots, while Beau Levesque scored 19 points before fouling out. Gaels’ star guard Matthew Dellavedova had an awful shooting night (2-of-12 from the field, 1-of-7 on 3’s) but did dish out 12 assists.
--Gonzaga has won 13 consecutive games and hasn’t tasted defeat since getting beaten by a buzzer beater at Butler on Jan. 19. The Bulldogs’ only other loss this season came to Illinois at home.
--Gonzaga has been a single-digit favorite eight times this year, compiling a 4-3-1 spread record.
--Although many seem to think that Gonzaga is going to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, I do not. If Saint Mary’s wins this game, I think the Bulldogs will be a No. 2 seed. Remember, folks, the AP Top 25 has zero significance compared to the selection committee. Gonzaga is No. 12 in the RPI Rankings, going 5-2 against the RPI Top 50 and 11-2 against the RPI Top 100.
--Saint Mary’s has won six in a row, going 3-3 ATS over that stretch. The Gaels have been underdogs twice, posting a 2-0 spread record with one outright win at BYU (on a buzzer beater by Dellavedova).
--Saint Mary’s hasn’t lost to a team not named Gonzaga since dropping an 82-75 decision at No. Iowa on Dec. 23. The Gaels’ two other defeats came on a neutral court to Ga. Tech and Pacific. They are 33rd in the RPI, posting a 1-2 record against the RPI Top 50 and a 6-3 ledger versus the RPI Top 100.
--Gonzaga won both regular-season meetings between these schools, including a 77-60 win at Saint Mary’s as a 1.5-point road underdog. Gary Bell Jr. scored a team-high 20 points for the Bulldogs, while Pangos had 18 points and six assists without committing a turnover. Dellavedova scored a game-high 22 points for the Gaels.
--The ‘under’ is on an incredible 13-1-1 run in Gonzaga’s last 15 games to improve to 18-8-1 overall. In the Bulldogs’ 16 games played on the road or on a neutral court, the ‘under’ is 12-4.
--The ‘under’ is 12-10 overall for Saint Mary’s, 4-2 in its last six games despite seeing back-to-back ‘overs.’
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
--With its never-a-doubt 69-53 pimpslap win Saturday night at North Carolina, I think Duke is a No. 1 seed even if it loses early at the ACC Tournament. UNC saw its 7-0 ATS surge halted but the ‘under’ did connect in a sixth straight game for the Tar Heels.
--Even though Cincinnati needed overtime to win 61-53 Saturday vs. South Florida, the 114 combined points still stayed ‘under’ the 116-point total. The Bearcats have now seen the ‘under’ cash at an amazing 20-4 overall clip.
--On the flip side, the 'over' has hit in 13 consecutive games for Iowa St., which has seen the 'over' cash at an incredible 19-3 overall rate.
--With yet another cover in Saturday’s gut-wrenching loss at Alabama, Georgia improved to 12-1 ATS in its last 13 games. Trailing by 14 at halftime as a 7.5-point road underdog, Mark Fox’s team rallied to get ahead of the number and actually tied the game in the final minute on a trey from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. UGA had the ball with a chance to win at the end of regulation but committed a turnover on a drive to the basket with a few ticks remaining. Alabama point guard Trevor Releford had enough time for a few dribbles before launching a desperation heave from halfcourt. Fittingly in terms of how the Bulldogs have been beaten in heartbreaking fashion so many times this year, Releford’s shot got nothing but net to lift the Crimson Tide to a 61-58 home win.
--Assuming Auburn makes the no-brainer decision (never a given on The Plains) to jettison Tony Barbee out of town, I believe the looming coaching search should revolve around two veterans who might be realistic ‘gets:’ Minnesota’s Tubby Smith or Colorado State’s Larry Eustachy. The Gophers are still going to the NCAA Tournament, but they have been the nation’s most inconsistent team this year and the locals aren’t happy. The last time things got like this for Smith, he bolted Kentucky for Minnesota. Auburn isn’t a great job by any means but it does have a new arena, is a two-hour drive from the rich recruiting fields of Atlanta and isn’t exactly facing a murderer’s row of opponents when you think about the rest of the SEC. I’m told Eustachy loves Colorado and he has a very solid Rams squad that could play deep into March. With that said, he established a lot of recruiting contacts in the South during his eight-year tenure at So. Miss, and he would certainly listen to Auburn if it came strong with a lucrative offer.
--When Tourney Time rolls around, I think about what (if any) elite players have the ability to put their teams on their back and carry them for six games. Danny Manning did it for Kansas in 1988, Carmelo Anthony did it for the ‘Cuse in 2003 and Kemba Walker did it for UConn in 2011. Does Creighton’s Doug McDermott have the stones/talent/heart to pull off a similar act? I don’t know the answer to that question but after watching the Bluejays beat a very solid Wichita St. team Sunday in the MVC Tourney finals, I know that his supporting cast is capable of big things. Although McDermott doesn’t have Larry Brown on the sidelines, he certainly has as much talent around him as Manning had with ‘The Miracles.’ Gregory Echenique gives Creighton a big guy that can bang with any post player in America. Grant Gibbs is a terrific shooter (53% from the field, 40% from deep) with an excellent 202/71 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Ethan Wragge is another guy who can stroke it, making 44 percent of his 3’s and 94% from the free-throw line. One more key stat to keep in mind with the Bluejays is that six of their best players shoot 74 percent or better from the charity stripe.
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