The culmination of this year’s NCAA Men’s basketball season is upon us. The 68 team field has been dwindled down to four (Baylor, Gonzaga, Houston, UCLA). Let’s take a closer look at Saturday’s match-ups and predictions.
#2 Houston vs #1 Baylor
Both of these teams know how to win and have a combined record of 54-5. Houston is led by Player of the Year (AAC) Quentin Grimes who averages 18 pts/gm and shoots 41% from behind the arc. The Cougars are a defensive minded team that allows 56 points per game to opponents while scoring nearly 77. This team is coached by the legendary Kelvin Sampson who is making his second appearance in the Final Four (Oklahoma 2001-02). Houston started the season ranked #17 in the polls and climbed as high as #5. Baylor is led by 1st team All-American Jared Butler who averages 16 pts/gm and shoots 40% from 3 pt. Baylor plays at a fast pace and has out scored opponents by an average of 23 points. The Bears were ranked #2 in the nation for the majority of the season before slipping to #3 in the final few weeks.
FINAL: Baylor 70 Houston 64
#11 UCLA vs #1 Gonzaga
After a 13 year hiatus, the UCLA Bruins are back in the Final Four in large part to head coach Mick Cronin who is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament. Cronin made 9 consecutive appearances (2011-19) while coaching at Cincinnati before jumping ship and heading West. The Bruins were going in the wrong direction entering the tournament having lost 4 in a row but were able to turn it around to become the first team since VCU (2011) to advance from the First Four to the Final Four. UCLA is led by Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang who averages 15 pts/gm and shoots 90% from the charity stripe. This team was ranked #22 early in the season but fell out and remained unranked for most of the season.
Gonzaga has been the team to beat this year and is only two wins away from a “perfect season”. The Bulldogs’ high octane offense is scoring over 90 pts/gm while allowing less than 65 point to opponents. This team is led by big man Drew Timme who averages 19 pts/gm and 7 rbs/gm. Some other “notable” Gonzaga players include: 3 point assassin Corey Kispert, future Top 5 NBA Draft pick Jalen Suggs, the only player in Gonzaga history to record a triple double Joel Ayayi, and Andrew Nembhard who is a member of the Canadian national team. To top it off, the Bulldogs are coached by Mark Few who in his 22nd year of coaching at Gonzaga has 627 career wins and has yet to miss the Big Dance.
FINAL: Gonzaga 81 UCLA 68