The no. 4 Gonzaga Bulldogs will try to remain perfect in conference play on Thursday night when they visit the BYU Cougars. Even on the road, Gonzaga is favored by 14 points.
As usual, Mark Few’s team looks like one that will be dangerous when March rolls around. The Bulldogs have cruised to a 6-0 record in West Coast Conference play without much of a hassle, putting them at 19-2 overall. Gonzaga’s only losses have come to Tennessee and North Carolina while they own wins over the likes of Duke, Arizona, Creighton, and Washington.
As for BYU, they took their lumps during the non-conference part of their schedule, missing out on opportunities to score quality wins. However, the Cougars are 5-2 since the start of conference play, putting them into a tie with San Francisco for second place. Of course, BYU doesn’t have much margin for error if they want to put themselves in the NCAA Tournament conversation, so they need to pull off the upset of Gonzaga to give themselves a chance.
The Golden Child
The Cougars have been led this season by junior Yoeli Childs. The 6’8’’ forward is averaging over 22 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game. He’s scored 20 points or more in eight of his last 10 games and has gone off for 30-plus points multiple times this season. Sharpshooter TJ Haws is chipping in 17 points per game and can be lethal when he gets hot from the outside. However, those two don’t always get enough supporting scoring wise, especially with Jahshire Hardnett missing the last five games with a hand injury.
The same is true on the boards, as the Cougars typically player with a smaller, quicker lineup. Childs is a strong rebounder who can hold his own. However, against quality opponents, BYU has been susceptible on the boards, getting out-rebounded by 14 in each of their last two games against San Francisco and Saint Mary’s, two of the better teams in the WCC. It’s a weakness a team like Gonzaga is more than capable of exploiting.
While college basketball is often a guard-oriented game, the Bulldogs are strongest in the frontcourt. They have four players in their rotation who are 6’8’’ or taller, giving them a distinct size advantage over BYU. Also, Gonzaga’s two leading scorers are both frontcourt players, with Rui Hachimura and St. John’s transfer Brandon Clarke combining for 36 points per game. On top of that, junior Killian Tillie returned in early January after missing the first part of the season with an ankle injury. He averaged close to 13 points and six rebounds last year and is slowly working his way back to form.
Of course, the Bulldogs also have quality guard play. Senior Josh Perkins is dishing out over six assists per game while also scoring 11 points every time out. He and Zach Norvell Jr. give Gonzaga a pair of capable shooters to complement their size inside. Grad transfer Geno Crandall has also returned from injury recently, giving Gonzaga some much-needed depth in the backcourt.
This is a lot of points to cover, but Gonzaga’s closest game during conference play is 13 points in a road game against the second-best team in the WCC. Both Tillie and Crandall have a few games under their belt since returning, so the Bulldogs are close to full strength at the moment. They should have more than enough to blowout BYU, even on the road. Bet on Gonzaga to cover the 14-point spread on Thursday.