Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Some intuitive gamblers who were unafraid to wager on a high-priced proposition bet before the college basketball season began look like they’re only a couple weeks away from a major payout.
An offshore sports book offered 20-to-1 odds on a team entering the NCAA Tournament undefeated in the preseason. The prop was mainly constructed around hype for perennial powers Duke, which was 25-to-1 alone to pull off the feat, and Kentucky, plus-3150 (risking $1 to win $31.50) to manage an unbeaten season for the second time in three years.
But while the Blue Devils and Wildcats have lost five games apiece, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are six victories away from pulling the prop across the finish line. They’re 30-point favorites today against Pacific before closing the regular season next week with games against San Diego and BYU where they should be favored by at least 20 points.
The difficulty of staying perfect will increase from March 4 to March 7 at the Orleans Arena for the West Coast Conference tournament, but Gonzaga still projects to lay at least double-digits in every game.
It’s been a special season for top-ranked Gonzaga, and not only in Spokane, Wash. The Bulldogs have been just as spectacular by Las Vegas sports books’ standards, where they have a 19-4-1 against the spread record, the best of any regularly lined team in the nation.
They haven’t lost versus the number since Jan. 23 when they defeated Portland only 73-52 as 32.5-point favorites. From the end of their nonconference schedule to the beginning of conference play, the Bulldogs went on an 11-game covering streak.
The success has Gonzaga receiving support from the betting market like never before. The Bulldogs have drawn action from the public in the regular season for years, and delivered at a healthy clip. They’re 323-248-17 against the spread in 18 seasons under coach Mark Few.
But gamblers’ confidence in Gonzaga dissipates when it comes to anything involving the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs’ notorious streak of never reaching the Final Four despite 18 straight tournament appearances, and a 17-21 record against the spread under Few once there, weighs down public perception — at least traditionally.
They appear to be rising out of the low expectations this season. Gonzaga is at the top of future odds to win the tournament at several offshore sports books, sitting as low as 6-to-1. It isn’t getting quite that respect locally, but the Bulldogs aren’t buried on betting boards either.
They’re 8-to-1 at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, behind only Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA, and tied with the last two champions in Villanova and Duke. At William Hill, where Gonzaga is plus-850, it’s taken the second most bets to win the championship after UCLA.
There are plenty of positive indicators that Gonzaga could leave its disappointing postseason history behind and reward all those backers this season. The Bulldogs are the only team in the nation to rank in the top five of both offensive and defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com.
Former Findlay Prep star and Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss — who leads the team in points, assists and rebounds per game — deserves a spot in any Player of the Year conversation as kenpom rates him as the fifth most valuable player in the country.
Someone with even stronger local ties, Bishop Gorman graduate Zach Collins, is the Bulldogs’ second most efficient player by the metrics despite coming off the bench and only averaging 17 minutes per game. Collins is shooting 65 percent from the field and snagging nearly one out of every five available rebounds while he’s on the court.
It’s appropriate that two players out of Las Vegas are leading Gonzaga’s bid to become only the third team since the turn of the century — joining 2013-14 Wichita State and 2014-15 Kentucky — and 20th ever to pull off an undefeated run to the tournament. Gonzaga is wreaking more havoc here than anywhere.
For this season, the betting market is zagging with the Zags.
Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.