- The Gonzaga Bulldogs were the most-dominant team in the first ten days of the college basketball season
- The Zags’ odds have already shortened from +800 to +600
- See how the top teams stack up from a betting perspective
The first ten days of the 2020-21 college basketball season saw a few big names fall in unexpected fashion. Kentucky lost on its home court to Richmond; Virginia fell to San Francisco as 15.5-point favorites; Villanova was edged on a neutral by Virginia Tech.
One powerhouse that hasn’t suffered so much as a scratch is Gonzaga. The boys from Spokane entered the season ranked first in the AP Poll and second in the Coaches Poll. When the Coaches Poll puts out its second iteration, it’s safe to say Gonzaga will hold the top spot after a blazingly hot start to the year.
Oddsmakers and bettors have taken notice. Gonzaga was the second-favorite in the 2021 NCAA Tournament championship odds when the season began, trailing Villanova. Now they sit alone at the top, and by a considerable margin.
2021 NCAA Tournament Title Odds
Odds as of Dec. 3, 2020, at FanDuel.
Gonzaga’s Early Resume
Mark Few has become one of the most aggressive coaches when it comes to scheduling non-conference matchups. He took that to new heights this year; three of Gonzaga’s first four games are against teams ranked in the top ten at KenPom (Kansas, #5; West Virginia, #8; and Baylor, #2).
They handled the first of those tests with relative ease, scoring at will on Kansas in a 102-90 win in Florida on Nov. 26th.
After demolishing a rebuilding Auburn team the next day (90-67), Gonzaga showed some grit in an 87-82 win over West Virginia yesterday.
The Zags, who trailed 39-34 at halftime, fell behind when freshman point guard Jalen Suggs exited the game with an ankle injury. When he returned in the second half, the Bulldogs mounted their comeback.
WVU’s tenacious defense held Gonzaga to just 25% from three and became the first opponent to out-rebound the Bulldogs. But Gonzaga’s depth made the difference. Sophomore guard Joel Ayayi, who had largely taken a backseat roll to Suggs in the first two games, tied a career high with 21 points while adding four assists and four steals.
UF transfer Andrew Nembhard scored 19 points off the bench as Few largely stuck to the same seven-man rotation he used against KU and Auburn.
Is Gonzaga That Much Better Than the Field?
In order to justify +500 odds, Gonzaga needs to have at least a 16.7% chance to win the national championship.
Penciling them into a #1 seed and a first-round win, they would still need to win five straight games (against quality competition) to hoist their first national championship in school history.
They need a 70% chance to win each game (on average) to have a 16.7% chance of winning all five.
Gonzaga’s regular-season schedule includes two more games against top-15 teams (both in terms of the polls and the ratings at KenPom): Baylor (#2 at KenPom) and Iowa (#12. Both games are on neutral courts.
The KenPom projections give the Bulldogs a 52% chance to beat Baylor and a 70% chance to beat Iowa. The next-toughest games on their schedule are at St Mary’s (#67) and at San Francisco (#78). They are allotted an 82% and 86% win probability, respectively, in those road games.
Come tournament time, it’s likely that Gonzaga will be facing top-50 teams from the Round of 32 onward. If the chalk holds, their round-by-round win probabilities would be something along the lines of: 80%, 75%, 70%, 62%, 54%. If that’s the case, their chances of winning the title would only be 14.1%.
The injury to Suggs on Wednesday highlights how quickly situations can change. At this stage of the season, it’s too early to lay such a short number on a team like Gonzaga. Their overall efficiency is only +29.32, which would be the lowest number for any top-rated team since Florida in 2006 (+28.28).
In other words, Gonzaga is an excellent team, but not one with an air of inevitability.
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