The college basketball world has been stepping very carefully amidst an air of uncertainty. Of course, we did not see "March Madness" last season as the pandemic eliminated everything.
But on Thanksgiving, we get started again. At the Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, FL, the Gonzaga Bulldogs, ranked #1 in the pre-season Associated Press poll, take on the Kansas Jayhawks, who are #6. If you are signed up with BetAnySports, you will have an opportunity to place wagers in real time by accessing Sports Betting Prime. And there is reduced juice as well, to give you a break on the odds.
#1 GONZAGA BULLDOGS vs. #6 KANSAS JAYHAWKS, 1:30 PM ET (Thursday)
College Basketball Betting Odds: Gonzaga -4, Total 153
Gonzaga was getting ready to make a legitimate run at the championship when play was halted last March, and although they lost West Coast Conference player of the year Filip Petrusev to the pros, they still bring back plenty of shooters.
One of the main people to watch here is Corey Kispert, a 6-7 small forward who hits 44% triples, gets straight-A's and is a team leaders. He's Gonzaga's best hope for All-America recognition.
Joe Ayayi is another guy who can hit deep jumpers, and all these guys know how to play at a fast pace. Remember that the 'Zags led the nation in scoring last season, and they can shoot from anywhere.
There is truly an embarrassment of riches at the point guard spot. That's where they have brought aboard the highest-rated recruit in the program's history. Jalen Suggs was both Mr. Football AND Mr. Basketball in Minnesota, a McDonald's All-American who is going to have an impact right away.
And when head coach Mark Few goes to his bench, opponents get no relief. Not only does he have Southern Illinois transfer Aaron Cook, a senior who led SIU twice in assists, AND 6-3 fab freshman Dominick Harris, but big news came in the form of the NCAA granting immediate eligibility to Andrew Nembhard, a two-year starter at Florida who was expected to be sitting out this season.
Kansas was the #1 team in both major polls when play was called off in March. And they went 17-1 in a hyper-competitive conference (the Big 12). They lost 52% of the team's scoring, which includes guard Devon Dotson (18.1 ppg) and Udoka Azubuike (13.7 ppg), who is also a premier shot-blocker.
What is left over is a pretty interesting rotation of guys who can get out there and guard multiple positions. It was coach Bill Self's preference to go with a four-guard lineup last year, but that description is a little deceiving in the sense that the Jayhawks can put three players on the floor who are 6-5 and another who is 6-7, in addition to center David McCormack.
The unquestioned leader is All-America candidate is point guard Marcus Garrett, who not only led the Big 12 in assist-turnover ratio last season, but is also a certified stopper, to the extent that he was named the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year. His coach calls him "the most complete defensive player" he's been around.
Self will look to blue chip recruit Bryce Thompson, who he refers to as an "elite scorer," for some offensive punch. And there is the aggressive Christian Braun, who can come off the bench and shoot threes.
But by and large, this is a defensive-minded and pace-minded team that doesn't have a lot of three-point punch. Garrett was below 33% from long range last season. Shooting guard Ochai Agbaji was only 34% accurate.
There is an interesting contrast at work here. Gonzaga is like a racehorse team, and they have the thoroughbreds to get that done. But Kansas, with all those guards, can slow the pace down if they want to.
Consider something here - over their last 21 games of the 2019-20 season, Kansas' games averaged 129 points. And they had low-scoring games against their top-shelf non-conference opponents, like Duke (134), BYU (127), Villanova (111), Tennessee (142), and even Dayton, a game that ended with 174 points in overtime but tallied only 146 in regulation.
Yes, Kansas will try to limit the number of possessions, and they will control the ball on half those possessions. At the same time, we're not sure they can trade with Gonzaga's shooters. McCormack is not necessarily a rim protector, and Gonzaga not only has a real capable force in the middle in sophomore Drew Timme, but has a pair of seven-footers to bring off the bench (Oumar Ballo, Pavel Zackharov). So they can excel in the half-court too.
Our play here is to go UNDER the posted total, but to lay the points with GONZAGA as well.
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