Which under-the-radar team can challenge #1 Gonzaga

Which under-the-radar team can challenge #1 Gonzaga?

Written by on January 20, 2021

Is top-ranked Gonzaga unbeatable this season? So far, the Zags sure look so and they may well go into the NCAA Tournament without a loss playing in the easy West Coast Conference. No. 2 Baylor, also unbeaten, perhaps is the Zags’ top challenge to win a title, but that’s too easy. Let’s look at two under-the-radar teams who could knock off Gonzaga in the Big Dance and their NCAAB odds to win it all.

Which team can challenge #1 Gonzaga? | 2021 NCAA Basketball Expert Analysis

Houston (+2400)

The eighth-ranked Cougars have just one loss and it was by one point at a good Tulsa team on Dec. 29. Brandon Rachal was fouled with one tenth of a second remaining and made both free throws to upend the Cougars.

After Caleb Mills made a 7-foot floater with six seconds left to give Houston its first lead in the final 13 minutes of the game, Rachal took a pass, drove the length of the court and was fouled by center Brison Gresham at the rim a fraction of a second before time expired. That’s how close Houston is to being unbeaten. It was the first victory over a top-5 team for Tulsa since winning at UCLA in 1996.

Those teams have a rematch on Wednesday (Jan. 20) in Houston.

Senior guard Quentin Grimes continues to lead the Cougars and rank third in the AAC with 17.8 points per game, while sophomore guard Marcus Sasser stands sixth with 15.5 points per contest. Houston is the only school with two of the league’s Top-Six scorers.

Through Jan. 17, the Cougars rank second in the nation in scoring defense (56.5 ppg), third in offensive rebounds (15.4 orpg), fourth in opponents field goal percent- age (37.1) and fourth in opponents’ 3-point field goal percentage (25.6). Senior forward Justin Gorham ranks third nationally with 4.8 offensive rebounds per game, and Sasser stands 19th with 3.2 3-pointers per game.

Houston is tied for sixth nationally with three Quad 1 wins, joining Illinois, Seton Hall, Kansas, Ohio State and Michigan. Minnesota, Iowa, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Gonzaga hold the national lead with four Quad 1 wins.

The Cougars did get some bad news a couple of weeks ago when excellent guard Caleb Mills announced he was transferring to Florida State. He was averaging 9.8 points per game on 44.8 percent shooting from the field in the 2020-21 season. Mills was considered one of the few top freshman guards in college hoops after averaging 13.2 points in 31 games as a redshirt freshman last season. That led him being named the preseason player of the year in the American Athletic Conference for this year.

Saint Louis (+8000)

The No. 25 Billikens of the Atlantic 10 also have just one loss, coming 90-82 at a good Minnesota team on Dec. 20. However, Saint Louis hasn’t played since Dec. 23 due to a COVID pause and has yet to play a conference game.

The Billikens’ top wins have come against LSU and NC State. Their 7-1 non-conference record was SLU’s best mark in nonconference since they went 14-0 in 1993-94

This is Saint Louis’ first time ranked in the AP Top 25 since the 2013-14 season, when the Billikens were ranked in 10 different weeks. Saint Louis reached No. 10 in weeks 15 and 16 that year, and was ranked No. 25 in the 2013-14 final ranking.

Jordan Goodwin has registered a double-double in all but one game this season. Dating back to last season, he has recorded a double-double in 12 of the Billikens’ last 15 games He averages 16.9 ppg and a league-leading 11.1 rpg. He is also 10th in the conference with 3.8 assists per game.

Javonte Perkins continues to lead the Billikens in scoring with 17.8 ppg. He has scored in double figures in 15 straight games dating back to last season. He shoots 53.6 percent from the field, 54.8 percent from the arc and 80.8 percent from the stripe.

Yuri Collins leads the A-10 with 7.2 assists per game. He is tops in the NCAA in assist-turnover ratio (4.14) among players with 50 or more assists. Last year, he led all freshmen in the NCAA with 5.5 assists per game. He broke SLU’s all-time assists record by a freshman with 171.

As a team, the Billikens lead the A-10 in assists per game (19.5), rebounding margin (+10.8), scoring margin (+19.4) and 3-point field-goal percentage (.410).

Saint Louis is hoping to return to action Saturday at home vs. St. Bonaventure.


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