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#11 seed GONZAGA BULLDOGS (19-14) vs. #6 seed ST. JOHN’S RED STORM (21-11)
NCAA Tournament – Second Round
Tip-off: Thursday, 9:45 p.m. ET – Denver, CO
Line: St. John’s -1, Total: 135
Gonzaga versus St. John’s is a matchup of teams with two distinctly different NCAA histories, recently speaking.
The Bulldogs have been to each and every NCAA party since 1999, dancing its way from tournament Cinderella in the late 90’s to perennial attendees today. If the ’Zags have been the annual party people, St. John’s on the other hand has been a tournament home body. The Johnnies, longtime strangers to all this madness nonsense, will be making their first tournament appearance on Thursday night since 2002, when they lost in the first round to Wisconsin.
The closest thing that these two teams may have in common is a little bit of history. In 2000 Gonzaga and St. John’s met in the second round of the West Regional. Gonzaga (#10 seed) defeated the Big East champion Red Storm (#2 seed) that year, 82-76. 2000 was also the last year that the Red Storm won a tournament game. Now Steve Lavin has the program back to respectability, and will be trying to add onto an already impressive ‘10-11 resume that saw the school go from 17 wins to 21 (and counting?) and from 6-12 in league play last season, to 12-6 this year.
You don’t make the tournament 13 straight times without getting hot at the right time of year, so it shouldn’t’ be surprising to see Gonzaga entering the tournament winners of nine straight and 11 of its last 12. Those numbers become even more impressive when you consider where Gonzaga was on December 11, when the ‘Zags were sitting at 4-5 following an 83-79 loss to Notre Dame in South Bend.
Shortly thereafter, quality out-of-conference wins over Baylor, Xavier and Oklahoma State got things back on track for Mark Few’s team, and from there it was a race to wrest control of the West Coast Conference back away from last year’s champ, Saint Mary’s. That battle was waged throughout the season, with the two teams splitting games, winning on each other’s home court. It came down to the conference title game, and the ‘Zags were up to the task, defeating the Gaels 75-63. Gonzaga is led by big 6-foot-5 senior guard Steven Gray (13.8 PPG, 3.8 APG, 1.7 SPG), who leads the team in scoring, assists, steals, collisions and floor burns.
Gray gets a big assist from 7-footer junior Robert Sacre (12.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.9 BPG) the team’s leading rebounder, and shot blocker. Sacre (pronounced Sock-cray) could pose a particular headache on the interior for the Red Storm’s big men, whose tallest players seeing regular playing time are only 6-foot-8. Sophomore Elias Harris (12.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG) is the third player scoring in double figures for the Bulldogs. Gonzaga’s guard play down the stretch was also impressive. Marquise Carter (5.9 PPG) averaged 14.5 PPG, made 13-of-15 FT, and committed just three total turnovers in the semifinal and championship games of the conference tournament. David Stockton provided key minutes off the bench subbing for Carter and Gray.
The Red Storm were sitting at 13-9, and 5-5 in conference play following a seven-point February 5 loss in Los Angeles to UCLA. They closed the regular season with a flurry, winning seven of their final eight games, including home victories over ranked teams Connecticut and Pittsburgh, and a road win over ranked Villanova. The Johnnies defeated five ranked teams in Madison Square Garden during the regular season, with the big head-turner being their 93-78 blowout of Duke on Jan. 30.
First team All-Big East player Dwight Hardy (18.0 PPG) led the team in scoring, seemingly saving his best for the biggest games. He scored 34 against ‘Nova, 33 versus UConn and 26 against Duke. Fellow senior Justin Brownlee (12.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG) is second on the team in scoring and rebounding. The concern for St. John’s entering this game isn’t who will take the court, but who will not.
Leading rebounder, and number two assist man, senior D.J. Kennedy (10.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.0 APG), tore his right ACL in the Big East Tournament loss last Thursday to Syracuse, ending his season and career at the school in heartbreaking fashion. Kennedy also led the team in steals with 56. Kennedy’s versatility as a passer, scorer, and defender will be sorely missed, especially on the interior, as Lavin’s crew will have to contain an energetic 7-footer without its top player on the glass. With Gonzaga averaging 37.4 rebounds per game to the Red Storm’s 32.8, the Johnnies have no choice but to outwork the ‘Zags in the paint. If they can’t, the Bulldogs could bulldoze the Red Storm en route to the second round.
Gonzaga is 12-8 ATS after an SU win, while St. John’s is 4-6 ATS after an SU loss. The Red Storm are also 6-10 ATS in non-home games, while Gonzaga is 8-6 ATS outside of their home gym.
GONZAGA is 11-3 ATS (78.6%, +7.7 Units) when playing against a good team (Win Pct. 60% to 80%) over the last 2 seasons. The average score was GONZAGA 73.3, OPPONENT 66.1 - (Rating = 1*).
GONZAGA is 17-6 ATS (73.9%, +10.4 Units) in road games after 2 straight games making 78% of their free throws or better since 1997. The average score was GONZAGA 80.6, OPPONENT 74.1 - (Rating = 1*).
This four-star trend advises a play on the Under.
GONZAGA is 11-1 UNDER (91.7%, +9.9 Units) versus good shooting teams - making >=45% of their shots this season. The average score was GONZAGA 69.5, OPPONENT 67.0 - (Rating = 4*).
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino to coach Puerto Rico National Team
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino NFL Odds announced on Monday 20 December that he accepted Puerto Rico’s offer to coach their National Team in next year’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in their bid to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.
“It's a tall order and that's why I'm taking it,” said Pitino, who is the only men’s college basketball coach to have final four stints with three different teams. “If they were already in the Olympics, I wouldn't do it. Their backs are to the wall.”
Pitino confirmed that he talked with Puerto Rico’s basketball officials on Sunday 19 December, and he was impressed with their optimism, making him believe that the team would have a great chance to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. He also reiterated that coaching the Puerto Rico National Basketball is an honor for him.
“For me to step into a situation like that they'd have to have a tremendous desire to win because there's no compensation for me except love of the game,” Pitino said. “So I want to make sure their best players are really into it.”
Pitino also added that he would talk with potential national team members that are currently playing in the NBA like J.J Barea of the Dallas Mavericks, Carlos Arroyo of the Miami Heat, and Renaldo Balkman of the Denver Nuggets, who all threw their support to their new head coach.
“I want to see how much passion there is for winning because their backs are to the wall,” Pitino said. “They've got to finish in the top two, excluding the United States, to get into the Olympics against very good competition on foreign soil, so they'll have to be very competitive.”
In order to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, the Puerto Rico National squad will have to reach the finals of the FIBA Americas Qualifying Tournament, but it would be a tough task because they will be facing formidable teams like Brazil and Argentina, who are also both eyeing a spot in the London joust.
Despite the difficult task ahead of him and the Puerto Rican team, coach Pitino said that he is optimistic and he believes that the players will play for pride and glory in order to reach their goal next summer.
“For these guys, playing for the national team is the biggest thing in the country,” Pitino said. “They are very, very passionate about it and that was a major factor for me on my decision to take the job.”
If they would not finish on the top two in the FIBA Americas Qualifying tournament, Puerto Rico will still have a chance as long as they would finish on the top five of the FIBA Americas tourney to have a slot in the 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
The top four teams in the 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament would qualify for the London Olympics, but if the Great Britain National Team will be given an automatic slot, only the top three teams will have a wildcard spot in the Olympics.
When asked how his decision will affect his coaching stint with Louisville, Pitino said that Louisville would actually benefit from it since he is planning to have joint practices.
“We're going to be able to play against the national team 2-3 times and play against NBA-type players,” Pitino said. “That's going to be great for our incoming freshmen.”
Although he knows that leading Puerto Rico to the Olympics will be a gigantic task, Pitino declared that he is up to the challenge and he vowed to give his best to help the team qualify for the Olympics for the first time since the 2004 Athens Olympics. Get into all the sports betting action at www.sportsbook.com the home of sports betting.
NCAA Hoops: Illinois vs. Texas betting odds and preview
Sportsbook.com Illinois vs. Texas betting lines: Texas +3.5, O/U 139.5
After disappointing 2009-10 campaigns, which included a one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament, and a third-round NIT loss, Texas and Illinois are on a mission to prove that last season was a speed bump, and this season will be the express lane that will take them deep into the big dance.
The Fighting Illini returned all five starters from last season’s team, are off to a 3-0 start and are showing several good signs early this season. The guard trio of Demetri McCamey, D.J. Richardson, and Brandon Paul are shooting a combined 47.4% from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, the Illini as a team is shooting over 54% FG on the season. Head coach Bruce Weber has been impressed with his team’s defense, as Illinois is holding its opponents to just 36% shooting from the field. On the interior of that defense, senior center Mike Tisdale is averaging 7.7 RPG to go with 2.3 BPG.
The college basketball betting crowd over at Sportsbook.com think Illinois is the way to bet as an overwhelming 92 percent of the cash is on the Illini.
Texas head coach Rick Barnes spent much of the offseason revamping the Longhorns’ offense. Now he has put that new offense in the hands of the new kids on the block in Austin, freshman point guard Cory Joseph and fellow freshman Tristan Thompson. In the November 10 victory over Louisiana Tech, Joseph had eight points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals. Meanwhile, all Thompson did was tack on 17 points coming off the bench. Between the two freshmen, and sophomore Jordan Hamilton, who is averaging 22.5 PPG thru two games, the new offense seems to be working well.
Expect Texas to get a major test from the length of Tisdale, Mike Davis and the rest of the Illinois defense. In the backcourt, the challenge of the young Texas guards going against the experienced shooting trio of McCamey, Richardson and Paul from Illinois should be an equally intriguing match-up. Seeing it all play out on the Madison Square Garden stage will be a fitting backdrop for two teams who want nothing to do with returning to the Garden in March for that "other" postseason tournament.
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