By Charles Jay
The Washington Huskies have thus far ridden the talents of two of the very best recruits in this year’s incoming freshman class. But will that, along with the matchup zone Mike Hopkins brought over with him from his days as a Syracuse assistant, be enough to overcome the Gonzaga Bulldogs, who can match them in term of length? This is a valid question that deserves an answer, and we may get that answer on Sunday night as these teams clash in an inter-conference territorial battle that begins at 7 PM ET at the Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle.
The TV coverage will be provided on ESPN2, and BetAnySports customers will have the opportunity to place wagers on the game in real time, using the technology from Sports Betting Ultra.
Make no mistake about it; Gonzaga lost a lot of talent from last year’s Elite Eight team (lost to Texas Tech). That included double-digit scorers Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke. In fact, only Corey Kispert returned from the starting lineup. But they have reloaded well. Transfers Admon Gilder (Texas A&M) and Ryan Woolridge (North Texas) have played prominent roles, and they have also seen the emergence of Serbian big man Filip Petrusev as a sophomore.
There may have been some questions about Gonzaga’s quality of opposition, at least up until about ten days ago, when they beat Oregon in the Battle 4 Atlantis (Bahamas). But after that draining overtime win, it was too much to come back the next night and beat Michigan, which pretty much led all the way in an 82-64 blowout.
Washington began the season with a come-from-behind home win over a ranked Baylor team, in what was the collegiate debut of Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, both of whom were among the top ten high school seniors. And they haven’t disappointed, The only loss to this point came against Tennessee in Toronto.
In the college basketball betting odds posted on this game by the folks at BetAnySports, the ‘Zags are the road favorites:
Gonzaga Bulldogs -4
Washington Huskies +4
Over 144 points -110
Under 144 points -110
McDaniels and Stewart are both 6-9, as is their frontcourt mate Hameir Wright, so U-Dub obvious puts up a pretty formidable wall against opponents. As expected, it’s problematic to score inside on them; indeed, they’ve surrendered just 41% shooting inside the arc.
Unless you can really beat them physically and bull your way inside, the best way to beat Washington’s zone – the same way it was when Hopkins was working under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse – is to shoot over it. And in this particular instance, Gonzaga appears to be decently equipped.
Coach Mark Few always likes to have marksmen on board, and with Killian Tillie he’s got a guy who’s nailed 46% from downtown in his career. He had 20 points in 26 minutes in the loss to Michigan. And considering that he is 6-10, no one is going to be blocking his outside shot, unless McDaniels wants to go out there and contest it.
That’s the thing with the ‘Zags – they can really stretch you. They’re 39% from beyond the arc as a team, and have guys who can come off the bench and hit threes as well. Woolridge, a point guard with leadership capabilities, doesn’t shoot a lot of triples, but he does it well enough (10 of 17 this season) where the defense must account for him. His problem is that he can’t make shots from the line (only 52% – yikes!). And that is an overall dilemma for Gonzaga, which is just 65% from the charity stripe as a team.
Maybe the guy who’s made the biggest strides for Gonzaga is a guy who hardly ever shoots from long range. Petrusev, a 6-11 soph center from Belgrade, had 22 points and 15 rebounds against Oregon and is the Bulldogs’ best hope for working inside. His averages of 15.7 points and 8.4 rebounds are nothing to sneeze at.
The thing about Gonzaga is that, one way or the other, they have the tools to break down this zone. They have the outside shooting, enough inside scoring ability, with strong offensive rebounding (35% of opportunities), which is quite possible as zones often suffer blocking out (Drew Timme could wind up big in this regard). And even though both of these teams like to go up-tempo on offense, the ‘Zags are less likely to commit the costly turnovers.
We’re going to lay the points.
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