The pretenders have been weeded out of the NCAA Tournament leaving 16 contenders still alive and ready to do battle this week. That's great news for fans of March Madness betting.
One of the storylines that is sure to turn heads is Thursday night’s rematch in the West region featuring Gonzaga and Florida State.
The Bulldogs may be favored again (-300 on the FanDuel money line) this time around, but they’ll be looking to keep history in the past.
Leonard Hamilton and the Seminoles dominated them 75-60 in the same round last year, and they’ll be hoping for a repeat performance likely using a very similar formula.
Whether or not that works will be the key Thursday as we’ll get a unique opportunity to see if a year of game-planning, adjustments and added experience will be enough for Mark Few to get one step closer to a Final Four return.
Noles Bring Familiar Depth, Rebounding into Matchup
Last tourney’s matchup was at the Staples Center and this year’s is about a 50-minute drive away in Anaheim. That will likely give any perceived homecourt advantage to the Zags, so put whatever stock in that you desire.
Florida State is still as tough on opponents in the paint as it was last tourney. The Noles’ mark of 37.6 rebounds per game is good for 17th in the nation in that category, so it won’t be any easier on the Bulldogs than it was last season to win the battle of the boards.
Returning for the Noles are top performers Terrance Mann, Phil Cofer, M.J. Walker, Christ Koumadje and, of course, Mfiondu Kabengele. What perhaps sets Kabengele apart from other top scorers is the fact that he comes off the bench, which should also tell you everything you need to know about FSU's depth.
In last season's game, FSU's defense was able to hold Gonzaga to just a 33.9 percent field goal percentage as the Bulldogs missed a whopping 39 shot attempts. That was a less highly touted Gonzaga roster, as we'll get to in a bit, but the Noles don't appear to have lost a step on defense.
In the round of 32, the Seminoles were able to limit the effectiveness of Ja Morant, one of the most exciting players in the entire tournament, by closing off his passing lanes and keeping him from getting his teammates involved as he had against Marquette.
The Noles threw a brick into Murray State's offensive gameplan limiting them to just seven assists as a team, and they'll be looking to do the same to Gonzaga.
Their problem is the Bulldogs have become a completely different animal in the year since these teams last met.
Clarke, Zags' Frontcourt Could Be the Difference
The biggest observable difference heading into this game is the presence of one particular player: Brandon Clarke.
Clarke has emerged as the X-factor for this team so far in the tournament and his performance will likely determine whether or not the Zags move on to the Elite Eight.
Along with a healthy Killian Tillie and a seasoned Rui Hachimura, Clarke is part of a Gonzaga frontcourt that’s not only good, but legitimately frightening.
That’s significant because the knock against teams like Gonzaga has always been unpreparedness for the physicality of opponents in the tourney due to playing in a perceived weaker conference.
The Dogs had the opportunity last week to show they're not going to be pushed around this year, and they dramatically made their case against a tough, physical Baylor team.
Clarke recorded a monster statline: 36 points, eight rebounds and three assists, as he and his fellow forwards physically dominated the game from essentially start to finish.
This is not your dad's Gonzaga team, and this could be the most imposing frontcourt to come out of Spokane ever.
Despite Clarke’s huge game, Few gave credit to an unsung hero that came up huge for the Zags and served as a testament to their much-improved depth.
”Corey Kispert was our player of the game, which is – the things we asked him to do, rebounding-wise, in defense, and then to step up to make those big shots was huge.”
Kispert hadn’t even been the team’s second-leading scorer in a game all season long, but his ability to go off at any time just shows how difficult it will be, even for a team like Florida State, to contain the Bulldogs.
Gonzaga Hoping Revenge will be ‘Sweet’
Make no mistake, the Noles are hot. They're coming off a game in which they made 40.7 percent of their attempted field goals and they of course have the carry-over confidence of last season's result.
But the Bulldogs just look way too deep, strong up front and capable of getting out to a big lead. The stout defense of both teams should be considered for those looking to bet totals.
And as far as the spread is concerned it all comes down to how well fans of NCAA basketball betting think the Noles will be able to hold back the multi-talented Zags.
It's looking like this season's Gonzaga team might finish closer to 2017's than 2018's, and the Zags should be considered undoubtedly a favorite to win the tourney the rest of the way.