For the first time this NCAA Tournament, I’m ready to bet against Gonzaga.
Even typing those words out makes me nervous, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. The Zags have breezed through Norfolk State, Oklahoma and Creighton — three teams that aren’t tough and don’t play much defense.
The USC Trojans will be Gonzaga’s toughest test of the entire season. USC is a consensus 8.5-point underdog, and I believe there’s a great chance they keep the game close for 40 minutes.
There’s always a risk that the top-seeded team in the tourney is 10 points better than anybody in the country. Gonzaga winning by double digits certainly wouldn’t be surprising. But I believe USC has the physicality, size and strength to challenge the Zags around the rim.
And since you can’t outrun or outshoot Gonzaga, your best chance is to slow them down.
In three NCAA Tournament games, USC has scored 112 points in the paint. They poured in 42 against Oregon, 38 against Kansas and 42 against Drake. That’s how you win basketball games and stay competitive. But I’m actually more impressed with the way the Trojans play on the other end.
According to Ken Pomeroy, USC is the best two-point defense in the entire country. The Trojans hold opponents to just 42 percent shooting from inside the arch and they’re big and strong enough to box you out and keep you off the glass. This is the type of team that has given Gonzaga fits in tournaments past.
The Mobley brothers — Evan (7’0″, 215) and Isaiah (6’10”, 235) — have helped USC win the Windex wars and will present a serious challenge for the Gonzaga frontcourt. Isaiah White (6’7″, 210) and Drew Peterson (6’8″, 195) help form a fearsome foursome.
Most importantly, USC has a senior point guard who handles the sugar. Tahj Eaddy has only nine turnovers in his last six games and he shoots almost 80 percent at the free-throw line. That’s the type of guard I want with the ball in his hands late in games.
Gonzaga is loaded with pro prospects and they’re still undefeated at 29-0. But those factors have been baked into their betting lines for weeks. If anything, Gonzaga lines are probably a point or two too high since the NCAA Tournament began. That’s the tax you pay to tango.
Therefore, I believe the Trojans are catching too many points in this one. Gonzaga is very good, but I’m still not sure that they’re an all-time great. Odds are strong that the Zags will face adversity at some point and I’m very curious to see how they respond.
RECORD: (27-18, +7.6)
TOURNAMENT: (4-5-1, -1.5)