College Basketball picks - Viva Las Vegas: Santa Clara has the edge over Portland in WCC tourney

  • In Charles Jay
  • Thu, Mar 4th, 2021 9:33:07 pm
  • By Charles Jay - Exclusive to OSGA

Las Vegas will be the venue as Santa Clara in Portland get together in a first-round game of the West Coast Conference tournament at The Orleans Hotel.

West Coast Conference tournament - First Round (@Las Vegas)

College Basketball Odds from BetAnySports: Santa Clara - 13.5, Total 144

And so here is my question - do you think Steve Nash, the coach of the Brooklyn Nets, and Erik Spoelstra, head man with the Miami Heat, have a little side bet on this one? Nash actually played in a couple of Sweet 16s at Santa Clara, before being a first-round NBA draft choice, while Spoelstra, playing for Portland in the 1990 WCC Tournament, had the misfortune of being just a few feet away when Hank Gathers of Loyola Marymount collapsed on the floor (he later died of a heart ailment).

And does Lloyd Pierce want to get in on the action too? If so, he may have to borrow a few bucks from Nash, his former teammate at Santa Clara, as he has just been ousted as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks.

Spoelstra probably won't enjoy watching this too much.

Portland has had absolutely no luck in the West Coast Conference this season, going winless. And even worse than their 6 - 14 record is their 4 - 13 mark against the pointspread. Easily the high-water mark of the season was an 87 - 86 overtime victory over Oregon State, but everything has been downhill from there. And that resulted in the firing of head coach Terry Porter, who is something of a local legend, having been a star point guard for the Portland Trail Blazers. But what could you possibly do? Porter had a record of just 43 - 103 at the school. His assistant, Ben Johnson, has taken over, but the results have not changed.

Here is a team that has been outshot inside the three-point arc by a 60% - 43% margin. They are one of the worst teams in the country at hitting the offensive glass, and they are constantly having their shots blocked or altered.

The only redeeming quality about this squad is that it just so happens to be one of the nation's top ten free throw shooting teams, which we would say is kind of unusual. The Pilots would dearly love to get fouled an awful lot, as they hit 79.6% from the line.

A player who has been injured recently but is expected to be in action is the guy to watch. Ahmed Ali is a native of Toronto who has played junior college ball in Florida, then stopped at Washington State and Hawaii before arriving in Portland. The 5 - 11 guard scored 26 points in that victory over Oregon State. He averages 18 points and is the team's resident three-point threat, hitting 37% from the field. And on a team with great foul shooters, he's the best, at 90.4%.

Santa Clara was able to be very competitive a week ago as they lost to top-ranked Gonzaga 89 - 75, trailing by only two points at the half. Because of all the problems with COVID (which among other things, prevented them from playing Portland), they've only gotten to play 17 games this season, but it must be noted that the Broncos were 20-game winners last year. And they have a 66 - 64 victory under their belts over Saint Mary's, which is one of the better WCC squads.

Santa Clara is not a sharp shooting team; it's fair to point that out. Although they get to the line pretty often, where their number of free throw attempts is 40% that of their field goal attempts, they are just 67% from the charity stripe. And they are not necessarily a huge threat from long range, was just 29% triples. But they should be able to work inside here, against the poor interior defense of the Pilots.

Their player to watch is Josip Vrankic, another Toronto native and 6 - 9 small forward who has averaged 15.3 points and 8.7 rebounds. Santa Clara it's the third stop in the career of coach Herb Sendek, who had previously been at bigger schools and bigger conferences, going to the big dance with both Arizona State and North Carolina State. This might not be one of his better teams, but they are pretty solid defensively, ranking in the top 20 in effective field-goal percentage defense (45.9%).

That's one superlative that's going to give them a considerable advantage over this Portland bunch, which continues to get beat by margins, losing eleven of the last 12 by at least fifteen points, with nine consecutive pointspread defeats. What other choice do we have but to lay the lumber?

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