The Jimmy V Classic from Madison Square Garden tonight features two teams who have played on the final day of college basketball in each of the last two seasons. At 7–1, Gonzaga is coming off a 17-point win over Creighton on Saturday. Villanova is undefeated and hoisted the Battle 4 Atlantis trophy in the Bahamas during the week of Thanksgiving. And while Gonzaga comes in at #12 and Villanova #4 in the national poll, KenPom thinks even better of them. He has Villanova at #1 and Gonzaga at #11 according to his efficiency margin.
Villanova comes into this game as a solid favorite and for good reason. The Wildcats have blown out most of their opponents so far. Western Kentucky kept it within eight and Tennessee lost by nine but every other game has been a double-digit win for Villanova.
The Cats have two future first-round picks and then a bunch of other capable scorers in line after them. The two stars are Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson, classic efficient, do-everything Villanova guards with near identical statistics. Both score exactly 17.9 points per game in between 29 and 30 minutes per game on somewhere between 50 and 52 percent from three and 83 to 85 percent from the free throw line. Bridges shoots over 56 percent from the field, which makes him look like a gunner compared to Brunson, who is nearly at 65 percent. They each average 1.1 turnovers per game.
The next two highest scorers on Nova’s roster are also guards. Donte DiVincenzio and Phil Booth both get over 11 per game with the sort of efficiency that would lead most every other team in the nation. Omari Spellman is a 6’8″ redshirt freshman who got his first career double-double in Villanova’s last win over St. Joe’s when the team also set new school record with 19 three-pointers.
Gonzaga’s backcourt is good but it isn’t elite. Josh Perkins is what remains from last year’s core. He was hard to spot throughout most of the Creighton game, when Gonzaga went into halftime down seven before blowing the doors off the Blue Jays in the second half at the Kennel. Instead, it was Silas Melson and Zach Norvell Jr. who did most of the damage. Melson is a strong, stocky guard who defends hard and is wet from behind the arc. Norvell is a southpaw who’s also pure from outside.
The Zags are just a little thin without their freshman win Corey Kispert, who missed the Creighton game with a sprained ankle and whose status is uncertain leading up to this one. Kispert is a true freshman but he can really play. He averages double-figures and had his best game against Florida when he scored 15 on 5-for-8 from the field. Villanova has so much depth at guard and my concern for Gonzaga is that Perkins and Melson fatigue in the last eight minutes if Kispert isn’t available. Keep an eye on his status as it gets closer to game-time.
Gonzaga does play a more balanced game with its forwards, who are both terrific. Mark Few starts Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams up front. Tillie is a 6’10” son of France’s olympic volleyball coach who looks and moves like he’s 6’5″. He can handle it, spot up and plays excellent defense with his feet. He strikes me as the best pro prospect on Gonzaga’s roster. Johnathan Williams gets more attention from the national broadcast. He’s another lefty who used a quick first step to blow by defenders with one dribble from 15 feet out. He’s got some classic post moves too and isn’t afraid to take it coast-to-coast off a defensive rebound.
This is going to be a fantastic game but one that is centered around offense. I lean Villanova on the sides but liken the over as the better play in a game that should get up and down.
Free Pick: Over 148.5