Gonzaga will get shot at skeptics


On the day Gonzaga was ranked No. 1 for the first time, it was reported that coach Mark Few had gone fishing. Maybe that was true.

But conspiracy theorists, or just some cynical writers seeking an interview with the new top dog, will say Few was hiding from the media and showing a lack of class by releasing a canned statement.

If a guy wants to go fly-fishing and imitate Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It,” it’s probably not a bad way to spend a Monday. Nevertheless, Few’s bland statement explained how it was a great honor for the program to be the first team listed in The Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Not to knock the Bulldogs — as proof, I’m holding a ticket on them to win the national championship at 20-1 odds — but it’s fair to question their credentials as a worthy No. 1 team.

So, what do the oddsmakers say?

“I rate Gonzaga as the ninth- or 10th-best team in the country,” said Ken White, an analyst for DonBest.com and a longtime Las Vegas oddsmaker.

With input from a handful of other oddsmakers, White produces college basketball power ratings for “The Linemakers” on SportingNews.com. Indiana, Florida and Louisville are rated as the top three teams, followed by Gonzaga, Duke and Kansas.

Polls reflecting writers’ votes mean nothing. The betting line is not flawless, but it’s the closest thing to the truth.

On a neutral court, according to White’s personal power ratings, Louisville should be a 6-point favorite over Gonzaga. Florida, Duke and Indiana each should be around a 5-point favorite over the Bulldogs. But those are his raw handicapping numbers.

Factor in public perception, and Gonzaga would be about a 3½-point underdog to either the Cardinals, Gators, Blue Devils or Hoosiers at the sports books later this month.

“How could you give the No. 1 team in the country more points than that?” White said.

The Bulldogs arrive at the West Coast Conference tournament at Orleans Arena with a 29-2 record, including a one-point loss at Butler on Jan. 19, and their resume shows victories over Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Few made the effort to schedule quality nonconference opponents, and Gonzaga swept the WCC at 16-0.

Beyond the records, polls and power ratings, let’s scout the players. Kelly Olynyk is a 7-foot center who can bang inside and shoot from the perimeter, senior forward Elias Harris is slasher from the wing, and Kevin Pangos is hitting 42.5 percent of his 3-pointers.

“There is not a better team in the nation than Louisville,” White said. “There’s no higher-rated team.”

On that point, I’ll disagree with him. Efficiency numbers show the Cardinals are solid, and they have battled tough opposition in the Big East. But they don’t shoot the 3 well, and guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are shaky. I probably would take the points with Gonzaga if it runs into Louisville.

Olynyk gives Gonzaga a chance to match up with most teams, including Big Ten champ Indiana with its own versatile center, Cody Zeller.

“I don’t think they have the mental toughness because of (coach) Tom Crean,” said White, who’s not buying Dick Vitale’s hype about the Hoosiers. “Crean’s teams are finesse teams.

“Everyone is saying there is not a standout great team. I hear it all the time on every TV show. I think that’s false. I think there are several really great teams.”

White rates nine teams, including Gonzaga, equal to or better than the Florida teams that won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007.

The Bulldogs, likely to face either Saint Mary’s or Brigham Young in the WCC tournament title game on Monday, were 1½-point road underdogs in a 77-60 victory over the Gaels on Feb. 14.

If Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s meet for a third time, on a neutral court in Las Vegas, my guess is the Bulldogs would be around 7-point favorites.

Anything can happen in league tournaments.

On Thursday night at The Orleans, Loyola Marymount, a 5-point underdog, beat San Francisco 61-60 in overtime. It was the Lions’ second win in as many days, following a 14-game losing streak.

Over the next week, we’ll see stunning upsets in conference tourneys all over the country, and more are coming in the NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga, a former giant killer, will get a fair shot to prove it’s not a phony No. 1 from a weak conference.

But in the WCC, Few is shooting fish in a barrel.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.