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2021 NCAA Tournament Final Four Preview: Gonzaga, Baylor on Collision Course - Metro US

2021 NCAA Tournament Final Four Preview: Gonzaga, Baylor on Collision Course

Baylor players pose with their trophy after defeating Arkansas to punch their ticket to the Final Four during the Elite Eight round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. Mandatory Credit: Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar via USA TODAY Sports

The Final Four is officially set.

A pair of 1-seeds, Gonzaga and Baylor, who have paced college basketball in all the polls from the jump, are now just one game away from a long-awaited National Championship matchup.

This game was supposed to commence back in December, but unfortunately, COVID-19 issues postponed the event.

Nonetheless, both teams have just one more hurdle to clear, as Baylor will get No. 2 Houston, while Gonzaga will face No. 11 UCLA.

The Bears have opened as five-point favorites over Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars, while the undefeated Zags are a whopping 14 point favorite over Mick Cronin’s Bruins.

Here’s who I’ll be backing on Saturday:

 

No. 1 Baylor (-5) vs No. 2 Houston

Saturday, April 3, 5:14 pm ET CBS

The AAC champion Houston Cougars have been getting no respect all tournament, much due to their wonky path of four straight double-digit seeds. However, they’ve taken care of business at every turn, and have done what any Final Four team does — survive and advance. 

Despite the disrespect amongst fans, Houston’s metrics are no fluke — sitting near the top of both Kenpom and NET ratings. They’re an impressive 28-3 on the season and are headlined by a slew of guards, most notably Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes (18.0 ppg).

Grimes is the offensive anchor of this team, as the Cougs have counted on the transfer to hit big shots all tournament long. He’ll be under the microscope Saturday when he matches up with Baylor’s perimeter defense, as Davion Mitchell has cemented himself as one of the best defensive players in the country.

He’ll likely start on Grimes, with Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and perhaps Adam Flagler spelling him intermittently.

Ergo, Houston will need to get production out of the other four on the floor, particularly on offense, as Marcus Sasser (13.5 ppg) and DeJon Jarreau (10.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.4 apg) must make big shots in this one.

Moreover, I think Sampson’s frontcourt actually matches up well with Baylor’s bigs, as forwards Fabian White and Justin Gorham have been stalwarts defensively.

This one will undoubtedly come down to which backcourt makes more plays on offense, as Vegas is expecting a dogfight with the total hovering around 134. 

The analytics suggest this game will be much closer than the five points Baylor is currently giving on the market, swaying me away from the public favorite.

I’ll take Houston plus the points.

The Pick: Houston +5

 

No. 1 Gonzaga (-14) vs No. 11 UCLA

Saturday, April 3, 8:34 pm ET CBS

UCLA has been the story of the tournament thus far, putting together a fairytale run to the Final Four.

The 11-seed is only the second team to go from the First Four to the Final Four, as Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams did it back in 2011.

However, despite their feel-good story, it’ll all but surely come to a crashing halt Saturday when the Bruins run into the buzzsaw known as the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

Mark Few’s bunch steamrolled its way through the West Region, winning by an average margin of 24 in their four tournament games.

It’s hard to justify picking against Gonzaga right now — regardless of the number — as this group has shown an unrelenting propensity to blow out their competition.

No need to overthink this one.

Swallow the 14.

The Pick: Gonzaga -14

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