This is not to say the Gaels aren't talented. Their guards can flat out shoot the deep ball and their big men can bruise it down low when needed. But can they match up with Gonzaga's depth and balance? In order to determine what the chances of pulling the upset are, let's look at a key portion of the last game between the two on January 10th.
With 15:00 minutes left in the second half, the Zags held a comfortable 19 point lead. Olynyk was torturing the Gaels front line, with entry pass after top of key isolation after entry pass getting easy buckets for Gonzaga. Making matters worse, this made it easy to get the ball to Pangos outside for wide open shots and points. The game seemed to be out of hand after the Gaels star guard Matthew Dellevadova committed his fourth turnover and temporarily exited the game. Changes had to be made immediately, and Randy Bennett made them. Defensively, he switched to more of a match up zone and gave more space to Olynyk at the top of the key. His penetrations weren't as effective in the second half, and he began to turn the ball over and got two offensive fouls. In fact, this reminded me of the Olynyk of old, the player who just two years was making maddening mistakes on a regular basis. Consquently the Zags offense fell stagnant, while on the offensive end the focus for the Gaels switched to Stephen Holt.
Holt began to penetrate the Gonzaga defense with ease, and on each possession Holt had a high ball screen waiting for him. He scored 11 of the Gaels next 13 and was able to get the Zags front court in serious foul trouble. Mark Few adjusted by trying to trap Holt, but he was able to find the open man and St. Mary's was able to work the ball into the paint for easy baskets. By the 11 minute mark the lead was down to just 6, and they eventually got the game down to four. While the Zags were able to stunt the Gaels momentum and pull out the win, carving into the lead in that fashion was impressive (especially for a road game).
It's a near certainty Bennett will try to run the offense through Holt this time, probably for the majority of the game. Will it work the way it did in the second half in their first meeting? The jury is out on that. Despite Holt's excellent stint in the last game, his field goal percentage is way down this year (from 50% to 41% respectively). This is clearly a sign that St. Mary's has been very much impacted negatively by the departure of 2012 graduate and three man Rob Jones, as now more consistent attention is paid to Holt. That being said, it's a safe bet that one of the top shooting teams in the nation will shoot better than 7-27 (26%) from deep as they did in Spokane. This favors Holt in a major way, as this will leave holes in the defense for him to get free and create plays in space. If the Zags find a way to close out on Holt and/or Dellevadova and contest shots, that works in Gonzagas favor. The Zags can also win on this by knowing what to expect on those high ball screens and trying their best not to switch if they can avoid it. If Mark Few's group fails to do this, the St. Mary guards could very well pull off a shocker in NoCal.