The undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs remain undefeated heading into the West Region semifinals on Sunday afternoon against the No. 5 seed Creighton Bluejays. The game is at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, with the Bulldogs favored by 13.5 points and the over/under listed at 158.5 points.
The Bluejays are one of the more surprising teams in the Sweet 16, based on their play in the Big East Tournament final. But Creighton has overcome such a dreadful performance and played much better in the tournament. After escaping with a one-point win over UC-Santa Barbara, the Bluejays had a convincing 72-58 win over Ohio in the Round of 32.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have been as impressive as ever early in the NCAA Tournament. Not surprisingly, Gonzaga coasted to a 98-55 win over No. 16 seed Norfolk State in the First Round. Despite falling behind early against Oklahoma in the Round of 32, the Bulldogs cruised past the Sooners 87-71 to get back to the Sweet 16.
Fear the Stache
Gonzaga forward Drew Timme has received attention for both his mustache and his play early in the tournament. Timme dominated Oklahoma with 30 points and 13 rebounds, building on a regular season in which he averaged 18.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
There is a profound shortage of dominant post scorers in the tournament, making Timme a special player. There are serious questions about how Creighton will match up against him in the paint, with seven-footer Ryan Kalkbrenner not making much of an impact in recent games.
Meanwhile, the Gonzaga backcourt is equally capable of leading the Bulldogs when necessary. Jalen Suggs chipped in 16 points against Oklahoma despite a poor shooting game.
Likewise, Joel Ayayi has averaged 15.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game since the start of the West Coast Conference Tournament, saving his best for March. That inside-outside combination for Gonzaga doesn’t even take into account forward Corey Kispert, who is the team’s leading scorer this season at 19.2 points per game.
Live to Squawk Another Day
As mentioned, the Bluejays were terrible against Georgetown in the Big East final. But they have made some noise in Indianapolis. As expected, point guard Marcus Zegarowski has been the catalyst, scoring 37 points over the first two games of the Big Dance.
He also provided eight assists in the close win over UC-Santa Barbara. The caveat is that he’ll face his biggest test of the season against Suggs and the rest of the Gonzaga backcourt.
The good news is that Creighton had five players in double figures in the Round of 32 against Ohio, so it’s not all on Zegarowski. Forward Christian Bishop has recorded a double-double in both of Creighton’s tournament games.
However, the key for the Bluejays will be Denzel Mahoney and Mitch Ballock. The two are a combined 7 for 24 (29%) from three-point range in two tournament games. That percentage has to improve if Creighton is going to keep pace with Gonzaga’s offense.
Close But Comfortable
It’s hard to envision any team beating Gonzaga the way the Bulldogs are playing right now. But Creighton can challenge teams defensively, and they have five capable scorers.
Bet on Gonzaga to win, but the Bluejays to keep it within 13.5 points.
Pick: Creighton +13.5
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