Do you prefer precise and methodical or athletic, swift and in-your-face?
These styles will clash Monday night at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana as Baylor battles the undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs in the 2021 men’s college basketball national championship game.
Coming out of the West region as the No. 1 overall seed, Gonzaga can become the first team since Indiana University in 1976 to go undefeated in a season. Led by head coach Mark Few, Gonzaga has been perfect through 31 games and has the chance to fulfill their destiny with a national title.
However, there will be heavy pressure on Gonzaga tonight as they are, essentially, in a clutch moment on the TV game show Deal or No Deal. Let’s say Gonzaga is the contestant and there is one box left to be open. The banker has sent one final offer to the team, but they said “No deal.” The one case remaining either possesses the penny or $1 million.
Monday evening really is all or nothing for Gonzaga as they have a history of coming up short in the NCAA Tournament even when they have been a favorite to win.
In Few’s early years with Gonzaga, they were bounced from the tournament in the second round a handful of times as No. 2 and No. 3 seeds. Gonzaga was a No.1 seed in 2013 and they were bounced by No. 9 seed Wichita State. In 2017, they had their best opportunity to win a national title, but came up short to North Carolina. It appeared as though Gonzaga’s hopes would take years to return, but here they are in 2021 with the clear best opportunity to finally be champions.
They are led by a stout trio in Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme. Timme has a stellar game in the paint with fluid foot movement and the ability to create his own shot when fed down low. He also runs an almost unstoppable high-low game with the guards.
While Kispert has struggled from beyond the arc recently, he’s still a threat to find the hot hand any given night and his swan song game could be the time he really lights it up from three. Then, there is the star in first-year player Suggs. He’s a guy that should be looked at as the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft as he works 100% on both sides of the ball. He was the main factor in Gonzaga’s Final Four win over UCLA as he blocked a Cody Riley dunk and hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to keep the Bulldogs perfect. He’s the star of the tournament and the star heading to the title game.
Few will need to see great play from Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard so he doesn’t have to go to the bench. If these two struggle, it may come down to Aaron Cook and Anton Watson showing up in clutch moments to fend off the gritty Baylor squad. Key contributions from the Gonzaga bench may need to be a necessity because of the hard-fought affair just 48 hours ago. Is Gonzaga fully energized and will they make the first impression or will they come out sluggish and have Baylor jump on them early?
There are no more excuses for Gonzaga. No one will remember second place. Gonzaga has everything to lose and if they don’t come through, it will go down as one of the greatest failures in collegiate athletics history.
Baylor head coach Scott Drew has also seen his shortcomings in the NCAA Tournament. Who can forget RJ Hunter’s 3-pointer to stun Baylor in 2015. How did Baylor top that? Well, they were stunned by Yale just a year later in the first round. They reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 3 seed in 2017 and had no answer against Cinderella No. 7 South Carolina, losing by 20.
As the clear No. 2 team in the nation, does Baylor have what it takes to beat Gonzaga?
Well, they have a great defense that will hound just about any better player thrown at them and a trio of guards that can shoot the lights out to keep them ahead.
Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler and MaCio Teague all have the ability to run through Gonzaga. They can shoot the lights out, but also have the speed and strength to attack the basket and draw fouls. Baylor’s best defense against a guy like Timme will be to drive to the basket and draw fouls or to just make him work defensively. If you can break down Timme the longer the game goes, you put your team’s chances to win through the roof. UCLA almost did it, which is why that game went to overtime, so Baylor should wise up and do the same.
Baylor also brings a depth that Gonzaga doesn’t really have. You wouldn’t expect it, but Matthew Mayer provides a spark off the bench that could give the Bears a nice run out of a timeout. He can light it up from 3-point range and has the explosiveness to pipe one down and really surge the energy and momentum on Baylor’s side. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Flo Thamba can shut it down on the side and make Timme’s night a living hell. Baylor’s got to make it ugly and control the pace. They can’t allow Gonzaga to get comfortable and run their set plays with ease.
I think Baylor will jump out to an early lead, maybe double digits, but I believe Gonzaga will handle the pressure and all the weight being carried into this singular game to finally overcome all their hurdles and hoist that first national title.
Prediction: Baylor 74 – Gonzaga 82
From Johnny Crane:
“Some might call it chalk, but others will certainly disagree. Arguably, the two best teams in all of Division-I hoops will face off, and let’s just say that points will be scored in this game. Baylor will put up a fight and expecting them to be cold from downtown the entire game would not be wise. Even still, there is simply something about this Gonzaga team. Their NBA talent, playmaking and raw shooting makes them a very adaptable team and this will only show itself again in this game. The Bulldogs will finish off the story with the best ending.”
Prediction: Baylor 78 – Gonzaga 83
From Sean Clark:
“This game will come down to one major aspect: can Gonzaga shoot their 3-pointers well enough to keep up with Baylor? Gonzaga showed in their 93-90 win over UCLA that they can struggle to defend and I cannot see them containing the incredible guard trio Baylor bolsters. However, despite shooting 7/21 in the UCLA game on their 3-pointers, I see Gonzaga getting hot when it matters most to supplement the dominance of Drew Timme inside, defeating Baylor in an epic shootout in a game that will be reminiscent of 2016 Villanova vs North Carolina.”
Prediction: Baylor 80 – Gonzaga 81