#11 Gonzaga (24-9) vs. #6 St. John's (21-11)
Betting Line: St John's -1.5 o/u 135
The 11th-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs (24-9) are the lone representative from the West Coast Conference heading into Thursday's Southeast Region first-round matchup with the sixth-seeded St. John's Red Storm (21-11) at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Gonzaga topped St. Mary's 75-63 last Monday for the WCC tourney title while the Red Storm (-2) are one of 11 Big East Conference teams in the NCAA tournament, where they will be playing for the first time since 2002.
St. John's was one of the hottest teams in the country before suffering an 84-70 loss at Seton Hall on March 3. That setback snapped a six-game winning streak and eventually caused the team to miss out on one of the double byes in the Big East tournament. The Red Storm were the fifth seed in the Big East tourney and survived a controversial 65-63 victory against Rutgers in the second round before losing to #4 Syracuse 79-73 in the quarterfinals last Thursday.
The loss to the Orange was especially painful because St. John's also lost starting guard D.J. Kennedy to a torn ACL in his right knee just six minutes into the game. Dwight Hardy has been the Red Storm's star player as their leading scorer this season, but the 6-foot-5 Kennedy averaged 10.4 points and a team-high 5.6 rebounds per game.
Without Kennedy, St. John's might look to run more against the Bulldogs, something that could fall right into their favor. Gonzaga averages 75.9 points per game and would love the opportunity to turn this into a high-scoring affair. The team is riding a nine-game winning streak and has scored at least 70 points in six of the last seven games.
The Red Storm have seen their last five games all go OVER the total as they have scored 70 points or more four times. They have also allowed an average of 70 points per game in their last five and failed to beat the spread in three of their past four after covering six in a row.
Despite their high-scoring ability, the Bulldogs have seen the UNDER cash in seven of their last 10 lined games. The UNDER is also 10-1 in their last 11 non-conference games, and they have enjoyed success against Big East opponents with a 7-2 record against the spread in the last nine games. Gonzaga is 6-2 ATS during the current winning streak and advanced to the Sweet 16 in last year's NCAA tournament before getting crushed by the Orange, 87-65.
Predicted Score: St John's 72 Gonzaga 66