By Chris Carlson: It’s been a long strange last year and change, with Covid-19 preventing us College Hoops junkies from seeing what on paper looked as though it would be a great 2020 tourney. That said it would be difficult to top this year’s Big Dance when all things are considered. It wasn’t perfect with all of the stops, starts, postponements, and cancellations but here we are down to the last 4 programs.
#1 Gonzaga vs. #11 UCLA
I’m not alone in saying I had no freaking clue that UCLA would make it this far and even as a 14-point it’s just plain knee-jerk reaction to say they have a real chance to win this matchup. Gonzaga not only looks the part of a team that will go undefeated their acting and playing like it as well. The Bruins have a variety of scores and are scrappy enough on defense and overall to hang with anyone in the country. I thought Alabama would win that game a few times but in overtime UCLA closed the door on the Crimson Tide in style. UCLA’s defense was solid down the stretch combined with some clutch shooting versus Michigan. The Zags do have a couple conference games they struggled with getting out of the box slow but in the end Gonzaga chipped away on the lead and managed to win going away. Gonzaga is just to damn deep and good, maybe it’s a prisoner-of-the-moment thing but I thing UCLA will dip under the spread in a loss.
The Pick: Gonzaga moves one step closer to the promise land.
#1 Baylor vs. #2 Houston
Both of these squads can put the ball in the hole no doubt but defensively is where this game will be won. Winners of 11 games in a row, Houston’s a juggernaut on the defensive side of the ball, Rutgers put up just 60, the Orangemen a measly 46 and Oregon State got to 61 after trailing by 17-points at the half. The Cougars never got to see how far they could push it last year but were able to bring back a bunch of talent and it shows. Baylor is known for their 3-point shooting but that hasn’t been what got them in to the final four. They only took 15 shots behind the arc hitting 8 of them in their victory over Arkansas and went 3 of 17 versus Villanova after a very slow start. It seems the Houston has played their best game and Baylor has yet to. Does that mean the trend will continue of sluggish starts for the Bears?
The Pick: Baylor gets off to a better start and wins a close contest in the last chunk of minutes.
Championship Marquee Matchup: #1 Gonzaga vs. #1 Baylor
This would be a superb championship matchup and although an underdog would be an entertaining storyline I prefer this one. Gonzaga has the advantage down low with Drew Timme who has great post moves and all-purpose scoring forward Corey Kispert. Kispert shoots a high percentage from the field 53.5% and astounding 45% from the 3-point stripe. Did I mention they have a great backcourt in freshman phenom Jalen Suggs and the dependable 6’5 guard in Joel Ayayi along with guard Andrew Nembhard? This appears to be the best starting lineup with a squad that will be the favorite to finish unbeaten. Yes, the West Coast conference was down this year and even when it’s up it’s not all the good to be fair. However Gonzaga’s out of league opponents were very impressive with names like Iowa, West Virginia, Kansas, and an absolute throttling of Virginia.
The Baylor Bears have come a long way since the tragic event back in 2003. The frontcourt is good but not necessarily great anchored by a solid player in Mark Vital, Mayer, and the only one that actually looks like a true big man the athletic Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua. A major key could be foul issues with that bunch considering the players that Baylor will be up against in the paint. Davion Mitchell is improving his NBA draft stock and is a knockdown 3-point shooter. Guards Jared Butler and Macio Teague are experienced and know when to turn it on when it counts. Many of experts are calling for the Zags to cut down the nets on Monday and for great reason. I just can’t get out of my head how many games they weren’t even challenged in over the last 3 months. Add to the fact that Baylor has 4 players that shoot basically 40% and up from the 3-point line but have the guards who can also drive down hill when the shots aren’t falling.
The Pick: Baylor puts their best game together winning in overtime 90-87.
Quick Hits NCAA Tourney
-As a 7-point underdog UCLA was the 9th upset by at least that margin to win this year’s wild NCAA Tourney. The most since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
-In 2019 teams that were 7-point or more underdogs went 0 for 24.
-Baylor qualified for the Final 4 for the first time since 1950 when there was only 8 teams total and legendary coach John Wooden was in his 3rd year at UCLA.
-Houston put the clamps on Syracuse holding the Orangemen to 46 points the lowest output since 1992 and least amount of points in school history.
-Houston made their first Final Four since the 1984 Phi Slama Jama squad.
-Michigan missed all 8 of their shots to close the game with a loss to UCLA in the Elite 8.
Written by Chris Carlson Host of The College Ball Show Podcast available at blogtalkradio.com/ropeadoperadio & Follow on Twitter @RopeADopeRadio