College hoops spotlight: Gonzaga-North Carolina

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

December 15, 2018 08:40 AM
Gonzaga coach Mark Few has not lost back-to-back games since February 2014, a span of 167 games.
© USA Today Sports Images

Saturday, Dec. 15

Few's crew looks to conquer ACC

Mark Few can conquer the West Coast Conference in his sleep, so his sights are set on much bigger goals this season.

With a win in Chapel Hill on Saturday night, Gonzaga would take over first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. A few weeks after the Bulldogs upset Duke for the Maui Invitational title, Few’s skeleton crew is playing a true road game at North Carolina.

Few is a sharper tactical coach than Roy Williams, but the Zags currently have two weaknesses — defense and depth. With starting forward Killian Tillie and backup guard Geno Crandall sidelined by injuries, Few is down two of his top seven players. Tillie missed the game against the Blue Devils, which made the Zags’ win a remarkable accomplishment.

Gonzaga (9-1) is scoring 94.1 points per game against the nation’s seventh-toughest schedule. Rui Hachimura (22.2 points per game) and Brandon Clarke (16.9) will be able to score inside and out against the Tar Heels, who want to run and gun but rarely defend.

Zach Norvell (17.6) is a reliable shooting guard, but point guard Josh Perkins, who shot 0-for-6 in a 76-73 neutral-court loss to Tennessee last weekend, is erratic and needs to play at a higher level for the Zags to top Carolina.

When at full strength, Gonzaga will power-rate as the No. 1 team in the nation. When the teams meet today, the talent will be comparable. The Tar Heels also have four stud players — Cameron Johnson, Luke Maye, Coby White and Nassir Little — and not much depth.

Hachimura should be the best player on the floor. Few’s in-game adjustments could be another difference. Do not underestimate a coach who beat Mike Krzyzewski’s collection of NBA future stars. It’s notable that Gonzaga has not lost back-to-back games since February 2014, a span of 167 games.

Play: (633) Gonzaga (plus-2½) over North Carolina

Other plays for Saturday:

(603) Villanova (plus-8½) over Kansas

(665) Purdue (-5) over Notre Dame

(667) Indiana (-1) over Butler

(673) Brigham Young (-4½) over UNLV

(707) South Dakota State-Nevada (Over 161½)

Last week: 5-4-2 against the spread

Saturday, Dec. 8

Irish face rough road, but will test Bruins

With an unusually young team, Mike Brey set up a soft nonconference schedule for Notre Dame. The three toughest opponents — Oklahoma, UCLA and Purdue — show up in a row and the Fighting Irish face all three away from home.

After falling to the Sooners 85-80 on Tuesday in New York, the Irish stop in L.A. on Saturday night. Brey’s go-to guy is junior T.J. Gibbs, one of the top guards in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Notre Dame has big guards (6-6 D.J. Harvey and 6-6 Rex Pflueger) and some size inside (6-9 forward John Mooney and 6-11 Juwan Durham) to combat the Bruins. 

Moses Brown, UCLA’s hyped 7-foot-1 freshman, is a raw offensive player. But the Bruins do have skilled guards, especially sophomores Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes.

UCLA struggles in half-court sets and thrives in an open-court style of play. Brey, who probably wants to slow the tempo, is a better tactical coach than Steve Alford.

The Ken Pomeroy ratings (UCLA No. 48; Notre Dame No. 57) accurately tell the story of two teams that probably will miss the NCAA Tournament this season. If Gibbs delivers a big game, the Irish should take the Bruins to the wire.

Play: (795) Notre Dame (plus-6) over UCLA W

Other plays for Saturday:

(723) South Carolina (plus-17½) over Michigan W

(729) Kentucky-Seton Hall (Under 141) L

(733) Pittsburgh (plus-10) over West Virginia P

(738) Illinois (-7) over UNLV L

(743) Saint Josephs (plus-12) over Villanova P

(768) Oklahoma State (-2) over Houston L

(778) Marquette (-1) over Wisconsin W

(791) Dayton (plus-15½) over Auburn W

(804) Connecticut (plus-9) over Florida State W

(827) Sacramento State (plus-1) over Portland L

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