Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs (1) against Saint Mary’s during an NCAA college basketball game in Moraga, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
- Undefeated Gonzaga is a massive favorite in its first-round clash with the Norfolk State Spartans
- The Bulldogs have posted 23 straight wins by double-digits, but face a stingy Spartans defense that has been key to the team’s current 7-0 SU run
- We’ve got you covered with all the odds and trends ahead of Saturday night’s West Region matchup
The Norfolk State Spartans hope to duplicate their previous first-round success at the NCAA Tournament, when they take on the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs in West Region action as massive 33.5-point underdogs at 9:20pm ET on Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Spartans earned a berth in the 64-team field with a narrow 54-53 win over Appalachian State in First Four action on Thursday night, and are now unbeaten SU and ATS in each of their past seven outings. The Bulldogs await their first opponents of this year’s tournament after marching to an unblemished 26-0 record this season, earning them a ninth straight West Coast Conference title.
Here’s a look at all the odds and trends ahead of Saturday’s game.
Norfolk State Spartans vs Gonzaga Bulldogs Odds
|Norfolk State Spartans||+33.5 (-110)||+2000||O 154.5 (-110)|
|Gonzaga Bulldogs||-33.5 (-110)||-10000||U 154.5 (-110)|
Odds from DraftKings on March 19, 2021.
Zags in a Class of Their Own
It is truly difficult to overstate the magnitude of the challenge facing the Spartans in Saturday night’s contest. The Bulldogs have been dominant while compiling a sparkling 26-0 record, with each of their past 23 victories coming by double-digit margins. Gonzaga’s dominance stretches back beyond the current campaign, with the team suffering just one defeat in their past 50 contests.
Gonzaga West 1 seed. Looking to be first team to go undefeated since Indiana in 1976. Finished 26-0, won WCC Tournament. Lead NCAA with 92 points per game. Jalen Suggs one of three Zags finalists for Wooden Award. Iowa, Kansas and Virginia present challenges. #MarchMadness
— Dan Gladman (@dgontheroad) March 15, 2021
With history clearly on the Bulldogs’ side, taking the Spartans as a +2000 underdog to knock off Gonzaga is not a bet for the faint of heart. In addition to Gonzaga’s current run, Norfolk State must also overcome the traditional futility facing No. 16 seeds, with just one bottom seed ever claiming a SU victory over a No. 1 seed since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 16 teams in 1985.
Bulldogs a Betting Disappointment
However, the Bulldogs face an equally daunting task to cover as 33.5-point chalk against a Spartans squad that has played stingy defense during its current surge. Further complicating matters for the Bulldogs is a surprisingly disappointing ATS track record this season. The Zags have covered just once in their past four outings, and have gone a middling 12-12-2 ATS overall this season.
Seeing early line of Gonzaga -32 move to -33.5 vs Norfolk State in Round of 64.
Since 2000, there have been seven #MarchMadness favorites of 30 or more points. Those big faves went 4-3 ATS.
If Zags stay at -33.5, would tie as 4th biggest #NCAATournament spread since 2000. pic.twitter.com/yIGfnn5isq
— Jason Logan (@CoversJLo) March 19, 2021
The Bulldogs have also consistently let down bettors as massive chalk, covering in just two of their past eight while favored by at least 30 points. The team also sports a brutal 2-9 ATS record in 11 all-time dates at March Madness as double-digit favorites.
Weighing against those unfavorable trends, the Bulldogs are tops in the country in adjusted efficiency – sitting first on offense and ninth on defense. Gonzaga has regularly run up the score while averaging a nation-leading 92.1 points per game.
Spartans Coming off Weak First Four Performance
The Spartans will need to avoid the huge second-half letdown that almost cost them their First Four game last night. Norfolk State took a 16-point lead to the dressing room in Thursday’s date with App State, but found themselves playing catch-up in the dying minutes after being held off the scoresheet for a six-minute stretch after recess.
NORFOLK STATE HOLDS OFF APP STATE
The Spartans will meet No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the first round. @marchmadness pic.twitter.com/3vcWscfxrK
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 19, 2021
However, those struggles should not take away from what has been an impressive campaign for the Spartans. The squad closed out its schedule on an impressive 8-1 run including their first MEAC Tournament title victory since 2012. Norfolk State powered that run with a ferocious defensive effort, limiting opponents to just 59.1 points per game over their past seven outings. That stingy defense has been key to the Spartans’ solid 8-1 ATS run at the sportsbooks, which features a trio of outright wins as betting underdogs.
2021 NCAA Men’s Tournament Championship Odds Tracker
Norfolk State Rises to the Occasion as Big Underdog
The current campaign has not been without its disappointments. Of their seven overall SU losses this season, four have come by double-figure margins. However, the Spartans have proven to be remarkably resilient when pegged as big underdogs, covering in six of their past eight as double-digit dogs including a pair of outright wins.
Norfolk State wins their first NCAA Tournament game since 2012 as they beat Appalachian State 54-53. Jalen Hawkins led the Spartans with 24, Joe Bryant Jr had 10.
— Jonathon Warriner (@Bracketologist3) March 19, 2021
Perhaps more important is this team’s past performance at March Madness. The Spartans pulled off a stunning upset in their last First Round appearance nine years ago, knocking off the second-seeded Missouri Tigers 86-84 while listed as 21-point underdogs. However, all will be for naught unless the team’s top scorers, Devante Carter and Joe Bryant Jr., can find a way to bounce back after going a combined 5-for-23 from the floor in Thursday’s win.
The Picks: Bulldogs -33.5 (-110); OVER 154.5 (-110)
Daniel has been writing about sports and sports betting for over 23 years. The seasoned pro has contributed to the likes of Sports Illustrated, Sportsnet, NESN, Bleacher Report, OddsShark, the Globe and Mail, and The Nation magazine.