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Gonzaga Basketball
Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Blanchette: Bulldogs draw rave reviews in Las Vegas and cause a lot of trouble for sports books

Caveat: this column is for entertainment purposes only.

Unlike all the other ones that are devoted solely to, you know, the dogged pursuit of truth.

It is not meant to entice you to hop a plane to Las Vegas and cab it to the nearest casino, or unearth a bookie here in town to take your action. Nor is this meant to sully the good, clean fun of college basketball with the base and sordid specter of … gambling.

That will have to wait until you can fill out a bracket for the office pool.

But there was a big bulletin out of McCarthey Athletic Center on Saturday afternoon, even as the Gonzaga Bulldogs inevitably turned 27-0 into 28-0 in much the same way Godzilla inevitably turns skyscrapers into soot. For in dispatching the Pacific Tigers 82-61 in front of an old-home-week crowd that included a handful of alumni sightings – Kelly Olynyk and Sam Dower from out of town, in particular – the Zags did a very unZaglike thing.

They didn’t cover the spread.

No, this is not fake news. It only seems that way.

Of course, as a talking point, it didn’t even make the Top 25 on Saturday. In their day’s work, the Bulldogs clinched no worse than a share of another West Coast Conference regular-season championship and left the building hoping for more, what with Brigham Young laying for Saint Mary’s Saturday evening. And now the Zags are down to their last two obstacles to 30-0.

“In our heads,” said freshman center Zach Collins, “we’re not going to really win it until we finish out the season strong and make a statement.”

This is a feeling shared by skeptics around the country, despite the Zags’ No. 1 ranking, the No. 1 seed in last week’s bracket tease and affirmation in power rankings ranging from the reputable – the ubiquitous KenPom and Sports Illustrated, say – to those compiled by the regulars down at Zeno’s Paradox Tavern.

Oh, and there’s this, too:

“Normally professional bettors see Gonzaga as being extremely overrated in public’s eyes,” Todd Fuhrman tweeted out last week. “Not this season.”

Now this is an ears-up, because those are the guys who frequently borrow the money the rest of us have generously donated to Las Vegas over the years.

Fuhrman is a one-time oddsmaker at Caesar’s Palace who now contributes content to CBS Interactive and FS1 hosts the “Bet the Board” podcast. He’s not suggesting that any newfound cred he’s seen Gonzaga gain in sports books is the fast track to a national championship, but maybe another indicator that a Zag fan isn’t just believing what he wants to believe.

“I can’t speak for every professional bettor,” Fuhrman said, “but some of the groups I work with – and myself included – have Gonzaga as the top team in the country power-rating-wise, which is an anomaly despite their pedigree in recent years.”

Another anomaly: Gonzaga’s success against the spread. The Zags are 19-5-1 this year, the best in college basketball (three early season blowouts didn’t make the board). Most years, they’ve been a couple games to the good – even the teams of 2015 (18-15-2) and 2013 (17-15) don’t compare to the 2017 Zags.

Then again, great betting isn’t always great basketball. Last year’s leader in that regard was Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, not exactly a Final Four household name. Back in 2005, St. John’s went 18-6 against the spread – and 9-18 in the standings.

And isn’t GU’s record on the board just another indication of the WCC’s soft underbelly, anyway?

“No, it’s a function of how they’ve exceeded oddsmakers’ expectations so far,” Fuhrman said. “A straight-up record for Gonzaga in the past isn’t indicative of how they’ve been against the spread. The fact they’ve gone out and buried teams is a credit to how balanced they’ve been and that they come at you in waves. It’s not like if the starters come off the court, then the back door is going to be open because they’re not able to extend the lead.

“I can tell you bookmakers are having an absolutely nightmarish time setting some of the numbers on Gonzaga. They can’t make these prices high enough. It puts books in a very delicate spot.”

Of course, the real question is whether any gambler got down a prop bet on Gonzaga to finish the regular season 30-0 – or whether coach Mark Few would even entertain the question.

“I don’t know that I didn’t care,” Few said Saturday, “but it was always a little too early to focus on it. Now we can see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel here. We need to be better next week than we were this week and if we do that we should have a real chance.”

But given what the Bulldogs have as a greater goal, 30-0 would be strictly for entertainment purposes only, too.

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