Game of the Night: Gonzaga vs Saint Mary’s (11:00 PM, ESPN2)
There are dozens of games every night that have at-large or seeding consequences, but it is not often you get a contest that will have ramifications for the at-large field, the bubble, top-four seeds and a conference title. That is the case this Thursday, when West Coast Conference powers Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s go at it. Gonzaga, ranked No. 42 by Kenpom.com and No. 24 in the RPI, is 18-4 (7-1 in the WCC) with wins over Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Illinois, Memphis, Oklahoma and Saint Mary’s. The Bulldogs’ losses have come against Michigan State, Duke, Wake Forest and surprisingly, San Francisco. Saint Mary’s is an impressive 20-3 (8-1) with wins over San Diego State, Northeastern and Utah State. The Gaels are No. 44 in the RPI and No. 43 on Kenpom.com.
After Saint Mary’s lost Patty Mills and Diamon Simpson from last season, many expected the Gaels to fall back a few notches in the West Coast Conference. However, that has not happened, as they are right in the mix for both the conference championship and an at-large bid. Center Omar Samhan is one of the best big men in the country, averaging 21.7 points and 11.1 rebounds every night to go with 3.0 blocks. Former Indiana transfer Ben Allen is an excellent shooter and passer for his size, and he can also rebound well. Forward Clint Steindl has started the last 17 games for Saint Mary’s, after guard Wayne Hunter went down after seven games. The backcourt of Matthew Dellavedova and Mickey McConnell is versatile and can do a variety of things. They combine to average 26.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 10.1 assists per game, and both shoot better than 41 percent from three.
Gonzaga has rebounded nicely from the losses of Jeremy Pargo, Austin Daye, Josh Heytvelt and Micah Downs, and are looking more and more like a team that can get back to the Sweet Sixteen. The team revolves around the experienced guard duo of Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray. Bouldin is one of the best all-around players in the country, and is nearly impossible to stop when driving to the basket. Gray can shoot from three effectively, but he has been inconsistent this season. Demetri Goodson has been a disappointment at the point. Freshman Elias Harris has grown into a potential first-round pick with his play, absolutely dominating since late December. Robert Sacre has been up-and-down all season, but can be a solid offensive option down low. Mark Few has a few decent options off the bench, namely Bol Kong and Kelly Olynyk.
In the first meeting between the two teams, Samhan dominated the post, finishing with 31 points and 12 rebounds, but Harris matched him, going for 31 and 13. The difference was Gonzaga’s ability to get to the free-throw line (22 attempts to 10) and control the backboards (45 to 25). Moreover, the Bulldogs shot nearly 60 percent from the field. Even if Samhan goes off again, the Gaels don’t really have anyone to guard Harris or Bouldin; both players are capable of carrying Gonzaga. The Saint Mary’s guards are going to have to provide plenty of outside production if the Gaels are going to win on the road.
Prediction: Gonzaga 78, Saint Mary’s 72