By Hocine LOUKKAF on 4/4/2021
As two of the most respected programs of the last decade and the top ranked teams in the country, Baylor and Gonzaga have finally the chance to win it all, with Gonzaga potentially becoming the first undefeated team of the modern era.
In the Texas derby, Houston could only hold 10min before Baylor’s shooters got hot (three 3pts by Butler in the last 11min), finishing the first half with +25 at the scoreboard. The 2nd half was even easier as the Cougars couldn’t get within 16pts as the Bears crushed them by almost 20pts. Baylor succeded in limiting Houston’s rebounding and offense with Sasser the only one with more than 10pts and a decent FG % (20pts on 7/14 compared to Grimes’ 13pts on 4/12). For Baylor, Mitchell and Butler proved once again they were probably the best backourt in America (12pts 11as for Mitchell, 17pts 5rbds 4as for Butler on 4/5 from three) while Tchamwa Tchatchoua was the X factor with 11pts 6rbds in 21min.
The UCLA-Gonzaga game went totally different and gave us one of the best Final Four games ever. Remember the storied Cali program had to go through the First Four while the small jesuit school has been the big favourite to win the championship. You couldn’t guess who was #1 as the two teams remained within 7pts the whole game, taking it to overtime. During this overtime, UCLA trailed from the first basket Timme scored to until Juzang finally tied the game with three seconds left. That’s the moment freshman Jalen Suggs chose to hit the most important shot of his young career, a buzzer beater from 30ft to send the Bulldogs to the Final. The short Gonzaga’s rotation performed well with every starter scoring at least 11pts (25ps for Tille, 15pts rbds 5as for Kispert, 16pts 6as for Suggs, 22pts 6rbds for Ayayi, 11pts 8as for Nembhard). The Bulldogs didn’t shoot exceptionnally well from outside (7/21) but were able to keep the ball and create as they dished 26as for a low 10tos. Big shout out to UCLA whose starting five played at a very high level (14pts 10rbds 5as for Riley, 19pts 5rbds 4as for Jaquez, 17pts 7as 1to for Campbell and another awesome perf from Juzang with 29pts and 6rbds).
That matchup is nice as the two backcourts are completely different despit the fact they play with a three-guard backcourt. For Baylor, Butler (16.6pts 4.7as 2st) and Mitchell (14pts 5.5as 1.9st) are smaller, more compact guards who can play two positions and put a lot of pressure on defense while Teague plays as a more traditional SG and Flager can come from the bench to bring some nice shooting (9/14 during the tournament with at least 50% from three). For Gonzaga, 6-3+ Suggs (14.1pts 4.6as) and Ayayi (12.2pts 7rbds) are the main offensive contributors. They can also count on Nembhardt to bring another solid ballhandler and passer (9.2pts 4.4as) but the rotation is short with only limited Aaron Cook to give minutes from the bench.
With Drew Timme averaging 25pts for the last four games and Kispert recording at least 12pts and 5rbds in each of the last three games, we could argue that Gonzaga has the edge as they have an anchor inside and a pure SF to score from outside, with struggling Watson coming from the bench (2pts in 27min over the last two games). The Bears doesn’t have any 9+pt scorer but a variety of players including versatile forward Mayer (12pts on 2/5 3pt vs Houston, 17pts on 2/5 3pt vd Wisconsin), bruiser Mark Vital (6pts 7rbds vs Wisconsin, 6pts 9rbds vs Villanova) and African big bodies Thamba (4pts 4rbds in each of the last two games) and fast improving Tchamwa Tchachoua (8pts 6rbds vs Arkansas, 11pts 6rbds vs Houston).
Gonzaga may have the more talented starting five with Timme’s impact as an inside scoring machine giving them an undeniable edge. Yet, as Gonzaga’s starters had a much more difficult game against UCLA and played each at least 38min, things could be complicated against a very tough Baylor team which played only one half against Houston. Considering these circumstances, I’ll give Baylor a slight edge to win its first men’s college title.
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