Men’s National Championship Game Preview: Gonzaga vs. Baylorby Alex Kielar April 5, 2021 0 comments
The stage is now set. After a very entertaining tournament with a number of upsets, it all comes down to this. The first-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs (31-0) face off against fellow first-seeded Baylor Bears (27-2) this Easter Monday for the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship.
Who would have thunk it? That after as many upsets there were, we’d have two one-seeds facing off for the championship. Only 16.1 percent of the 14.7 million brackets in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge correctly predicted that this would be the title game. 71.6 percent of those brackets chose the Zags as their champion.
This tournament is everything we all had hoped for after two years since we last got madness. Now it comes to a head with the number one overall seed versus the number two overall seed. It is the perfect ending for an imperfect season. What we all need during this difficult time. These two teams have the two highest winning percentages since the start of the 2019-20 season. Gonzaga is 62-2 (.969) and Baylor is 53-6 (.898) the past two seasons.
The Bulldogs came out on top in the game of the decade and one of the best games in tournament history on Saturday. In an absolute thriller, future lottery pick Jalen Suggs banked in a near half-court heave at the overtime buzzer to take down the UCLA Bruins, 93-90. That was after UCLA’s Johnny Juzang had tied it at 90 with just 3.3 seconds left on a put-back of his own miss. THIS. IS. MARCH.
JALEN SUGGS FROM HALFCOURT FOR THE WIN 😱
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 4, 2021
Gonzaga looks to become the eighth undefeated college basketball national champion in the NCAA tournament era, and first since Bob Knight‘s 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. They also look for their first national championship, in their second trip to the final. Their first appearance came in 2017 when they fell to North Carolina. The Bulldogs would also be the first West Coast Conference team to win it all since Bill Russell‘s University of San Francisco team won back-to-back titles in 1955 and 1956.
Suggs has averaged 13 points, 5.4 rebounds, and five assists through five tournament games, while Drew Timme leads them with 22 points per game. Suggs came up with the clutch game-winner, but Timme was the catalyst in the overtime period. He scored the first six points in the extra time and finished the game with 25 points. Corey Kispert has also averaged 17 points in the tournament and 5.6 rebounds. The senior forward has 53.3 percent from the field on the season. Despite that, he has not shot well from behind the arc of late, shooting just 5-of-18 from three-point range the last two games. His ability to shoot opens up other opportunities for Timme and Suggs. If he is on his game, the Bulldogs will be in good shape.
Despite UCLA fighting their butts off – shooting 58 percent from the field – Gonzaga still found a way to victory. The Zags will have to take care of the ball against a Baylor team that forces 17.1 turnovers per game.
The Bears got to this game by beating two-seeded Houston pretty handily, 78-59. Davion Mitchell has been the Crisco that has helped Baylor cook this season on both ends of the floor. The junior guard has averaged 13.2 points and six assists during the NCAA Tournament. He recorded his second double-double of the season on Saturday, with 12 points and 11 assists. Facing off against Suggs will be no walk in the park for Mitchell tonight, but if anyone can do it, it’s him.
Defending in transition will be a key for Baylor, as Gonzaga is one of the best teams in fast-break chances. They outscored UCLA 15-0 in fast-break points and outscored them 56-24 in the paint. If the Bears can hit the glass strong and win the rebound battle, they will have a good chance of staying in the game. Giving the Bulldogs extra chances is a big no-no. Forcing them to go late into the shot clock will be key. Mitchell won the National Defensive Player of the Year award this season and defended probable first overall pick, Cade Cunningham, pretty well against Oklahoma State. Unfortunately for the Bears, though, they have a lot more than just Suggs to worry about. It will be tough to keep the best defender in the country on just one player.
Baylor went through a three-week COVID pause during the season, which caused them to be a little rusty when they returned to play. But they have been playing some of their best basketball during the tournament and haven’t been turning the ball over much. They have a lot of solid shooters, with Jared Butler (16.6 PPG), Macio Teague (15.8 PPG), and Mitchell (14 PPG) averaging double-digit points, with Adam Flagler not far behind with nine PPG. All four of them have also shot at least 38.9 percent from behind the arc. Butler is averaging two steals per game and had two against Houston.
Betting Lines Courtesy of Jazz Sportsbook
Point Spread: GONZ -4 (-110) | BAY +4 (-110)
Moneyline: GONZ -200 | BAY +170
Over/Under: O 159 (-110) | U 159 (-110)
This game will be a battle and won’t give us anything short of very entertaining. As far as the spread is concerned, I am not confident enough to back Baylor at +4 as the Zags have enough firepower to win by more than one possession. There are other books that have the line at 4.5 or larger, so that is where you could attack Baylor. But as far as this book is concerned, take Gonzaga to cover. The Bulldogs are just too good to fade with a line that small. In regards to the over/under, this game could easily be a shootout, so I have all the confidence in the world that it will smash the over.
The championship game goes down on Monday, April 5th at 9:20 p.m. EST from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. It will be broadcast on CBS.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images