Rui Hachimura is out of his league, in a good way. The 6-foot-8 junior forward for Gonzaga is not only the best player in the West Coast Conference, he’s a first-team All-American.
Two years ago as a freshman, Hachimura rarely got on the floor, averaging 4.6 minutes and 2.6 points per game. His development is an example of how Zags coach Mark Few maintains an elite program. Few does not sign classes full of five-star recruits and NBA-ready lottery picks. Hachimura, graded as a three-star recruit out of Japan, did not arrive with the hype of Duke freshman superstar Zion Williamson. But Hachimura and the Zags upended Williamson and the Blue Devils in the Maui Invitational championship game in November.
When at full strength, Gonzaga will rate as the No. 2 team in the nation behind Duke. The Bulldogs are close to full speed now with forward Killian Tillie and guard Geno Crandall back in the rotation. Tillie and Crandall are still getting into game shape and playing limited minutes, however. The Zags are being led by Hachimura (20.8 points, 6.0 rebounds), San Jose State transfer Brandon Clarke and veteran guards Zach Norvell and Josh Perkins.
Gonzaga (15-2) is a good bet to run the table in the WCC, where Saint Mary’s and Brigham Young no longer rank second and third. San Francisco (14-2) is the team most capable of giving the Bulldogs a run for the money this season.
The Dons’ two losses — to Buffalo in Northern Ireland and at UC Santa Barbara — were by a combined six points. San Francisco ranks 15th in the nation in scoring defense (61.2 points per game) and has a pair of talented guards in Charles Minlend and Frankie Ferrari.
Since a loss at North Carolina on Dec. 15, Gonzaga is 6-0 against the spread while covering huge numbers (28½, 28, 40, 27, 26½, 26). The Zags will encounter only a few tough road trips in the WCC and this is one. It’s probably fantasy to think the Dons can find enough offensive firepower to pull off the upset, but the small house will be packed in San Francisco on Saturday night and the Zags could be forced to sweat it out.
Play: (758) San Francisco (plus-9½) over Gonzaga
Other plays for Saturday:
(614) Clemson (plus-5½) over Virginia
(618) Notre Dame (-6) over Boston College
(655) Seton Hall (plus-6) over Marquette
(712) Florida (plus-3) over Tennessee
(740) Fresno State (plus-4) over Nevada
(768) Colorado (-1½) over Washington
Season results for this blog: 12-12-2 ATS
(722) New Mexico (plus-8 1H) over Nevada W
(722) New Mexico (plus-14½) over Nevada W
(603) Clemson (plus-16) over Duke L
(606) Ohio State (plus-2½) over Michigan State L
(608) Pittsburgh (plus-9) over North Carolina L
(612) Notre Dame (plus-2) over Syracuse L
(614) Butler (-4½) over Creighton W
(718) Pepperdine (plus-7½) over San Francisco W
(738) Boise State (-2) over San Diego State W
(633) Gonzaga ( 2½) over North Carolina L
(603) Villanova ( 8½) over Kansas W
(665) Purdue (-5) over Notre Dame L
(667) Indiana (-1) over Butler W
(673) Brigham Young (-4½) over UNLV L
(707) South Dakota State-Nevada (Over 161½) L
(795) Notre Dame ( 6) over UCLA W
(723) South Carolina ( 17½) over Michigan W
(729) Kentucky-Seton Hall (Under 141) L
(733) Pittsburgh ( 10) over West Virginia P
(738) Illinois (-7) over UNLV L
(743) Saint Josephs ( 12) over Villanova P
(768) Oklahoma State (-2) over Houston L
(778) Marquette (-1) over Wisconsin W
(791) Dayton ( 15½) over Auburn W
(804) Connecticut ( 9) over Florida State W
(827) Sacramento State ( 1) over Portland L