Betting public buying into Gonzaga's perfect look

February 24, 2017 10:21 AM
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Gonzaga coach Mark Few is shooting for his first Final Four.

By Matt Youmans

VSiN senior editor

Mark Few has been down this road before, and in the past it was always a dead end. Gonzaga has rolled into March full of steam only to get stopped short of the Final Four.

Where the road will lead this time is obviously a mystery, but a few clues indicate the Bulldogs are better built to last in the NCAA Tournament.

The Zags improved to 29-0 with a 96-38 win at San Diego on Thursday night, when their 58-point margin of victory dwarfed the 24-point spread. Blowing away the expectations of oddsmakers is one positive sign, and Gonzaga is 20-5-1 against the spread in its lined games.

Never falling victim to trap games or letdown spots is another strong clue. The Zags have won 21 consecutive games by double digits.

And this Gonzaga team is built with size and strength, starting with 6-foot-3 point guard Nigel Williams-Goss and 7-1 Przemek Karnowski.

“It would not surprise me if Gonzaga made a run,” said Bruce Marshall, a handicapper for The Gold Sheet. “The guards are bigger and more athletic. This is Few’s best team.”

The betting public is buying stock in the Bulldogs. Las Vegas bookmakers are routinely paying off Zags backers and writing futures tickets on Gonzaga. But the books are surviving the onslaught because wiseguys rarely play teams favored by 20 points or more.

“The numbers are so big, and the sharps won’t play Gonzaga because they don’t like to lay those kind of points,” Westgate sports book director Jay Kornegay said.

At the Westgate, Gonzaga was getting 60-1 odds to win the NCAA championship when the season started, and the odds are down to 7-1. Kornegay said the Zags lead the ticket count, ahead of Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina.

VSiN oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo has Gonzaga at No. 5 in his power rankings, behind North Carolina, Kansas, Villanova and Duke. The Zags are No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings (Kenpom.com).

“At Christmas, I thought maybe 10 teams could get to the Final Four,” Marshall said. “But this is so wide open. I think the Zags are for real, but I think 15 to 20 other teams are just as good.”

Once again, Gonzaga has gone relatively untested in the weak West Coast Conference. In the nonconference, the Zags beat Florida, Iowa State and Arizona on neutral courts, but the Wildcats were without suspended star guard Allonzo Trier at the time.

Williams-Goss, who plays both ends of the floor and can match up against big guards, is one reason Few should be optimistic about coaching in his first Final Four. Williams-Goss is averaging 16.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists as one of the nation’s top all-around players.

Karnowski and Zach Collins, a 7-foot freshman from Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, form an imposing front line with 6-9 forward Johnathan Williams. Jordan Mathews (6-4) and Josh Perkins (6-3) are also big guards.

At Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, Williams-Goss probably envisioned how his college career might unfold. It’s not following that script. Williams-Goss initially committed to UNLV but backed out after coach Lon Kruger left for Oklahoma in April 2011. Williams-Goss spent two seasons at Washington before transferring to join Few in Spokane.

His final season is following a perfect script. Gonzaga will be a double-digit home favorite over Brigham Young in its regular-season finale on Saturday night.

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