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Can the Baylor Bears finish the job and thwart Gonzaga’s path to history?

Predictions for the 2021 College Basketball National Championship Game between the Bulldogs and Bears

UNITED STATES – If something felt wrong about writing in pencil from Gonzaga Bulldogs and Baylor Bears for the national championship, it’s just because the tournament NCAA traditionally it has given us so many surprises. (The almost absence of Saturday night for the UCLA was another reminder.) It couldn’t have been because someone doubted the abilities of the Zags or Bears, the nation’s two best teams in November (and maybe even November 2019) that will finally meet for the national championship on Monday. at night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Perhaps that canceled meeting between the two teams on December 5 was a blessing in disguise. We will see Mark Few’s team and Scott Drew’s team rally for all the marbles.

Before Monday night’s game, ESPN.com’s college basketball team from Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway and Joe Lunardi met to discuss the historical implications of Gonzaga vs. Baylor; the way forward for the Houston and UCLA teams they defeated in Saturday night’s Final Four; and the player games we look forward to the most on Championship Monday at Indy.

Is Gonzaga vs. Baylor for the national championship, the rare event where the country’s two undisputed best teams make it to the final stage of college basketball. What are the historical implications of 1v2? Are you ready to rate where this showdown ranks in history, or at least in recent history?

Medcalf: This feels unique because we are looking at a game that could have been played last year if the NCAA tournament hadn’t been canceled. Since November. As of November 8, 2019, Baylor has lost only five games. Gonzaga has lost two during that stretch. On paper, I think he rivals the 2017 North Carolina-Gonzaga championship game, based on his position in the current hierarchy of the game.

After Kansas beat Ohio State in the Final Four in 2012, I think we all agreed that the Jayhawks deserved their shot at Kentucky. But we just haven’t had a lot of two-year accumulations for a championship game in this era. Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi were strong players a year ago at Gonzaga, and Drew Timme ended the 2019-20 season with a series of impressive starts. Jared Butler and MaCio Teague returned to chase a title this season for Baylor. A tournament led by two teams anchored by key players from last season’s top teams only amplifies the build-up for Monday’s game. It is a rare thing in the era of one and done. These aren’t just the top two teams this season. They are the two most dominant programs in the last two years.

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1:27

Gonzaga Advances! Suggs sinks UCLA with a miraculous shot

Jalen Suggs rises and takes the shot from the center of the floor before ringing the bell as Gonzaga defeats UCLA in overtime to advance to the national title game.

Borzello: I guess the game I listen to would be the 2005 national championship game between Illinois and North Carolina. Illinois started the season with 29 consecutive wins and then won the Big Ten tournament before reaching the national championship, while North Carolina suffered four pre-tournament losses, but was right there with Illinois ahead of the rest of the country in the metrics. The difference between those two teams and Gonzaga and Baylor is that we knew the latter would be elite before the season, lived up to the hype during the regular season, and then worked their way into the title game. So I think this match is a bit taller than that game from 2005.

Gonzaga, for me, is a generationally good team; And if we take the struggles out after their COVID-19 hiatus, Baylor isn’t that far behind. Baylor is 53-6 the last two seasons, Gonzaga is 62-2, and I think there’s a possibility that we would have had two undefeated teams meeting in the title game if it weren’t for the break. This should be the best matchup on paper in recent history.

Gasaway: We often don’t get clear distinctions between the top two and all the other teams in the country; And of course, going into the 2021 tournament, the AP poll said the “top two” meant Gonzaga and Illinois. But the tournament itself defines who the best teams really are, and the Bulldogs and Baylor are clearly the Division I class. Looking at or immediately adjacent to this century’s precedents, North Carolina vs. Gonzaga in 2017 comes to mind, as does Duke vs. Wisconsin in 2015; Kansas vs. Memphis in 2008; Florida vs. State of Ohio in 2007; North Carolina vs. Illinois in 2005; and UConn vs. Duque in 1999. All of those title games faced two No. 1 seeds, and with just one or two slight exceptions, all were close to the final minutes. Buckle up, this should be great.

Lunardi: All due respect, but the NCAA tournament rarely determines the best team in a given season. It gives us a worthy champion, to be sure, but the idea of ​​”better” is harder to come by. Until now. Gonzaga and Baylor have been on a collision course since the non-match in December and will now decide both a worthy champion and the best team. The road ended for the Houston and UCLA teams who made impressive runs through this tournament. Who do you think has the best chance of making it back to the Final Four sooner, the Cougars or the Bruins?

Borzello: UCLA – and I think the Bruins will be chosen as Final Four contenders as we start to think about qualifying in early 2021-22. Mick Cronin could bring back every player on this year’s team, assuming Chris Smith decides to come back after breaking his ACL mid-season and Johnny Juzang does not enter the NBA draft. The Bruins also bring in five-star prospect Peyton Watson, who should have an immediate impact and provide some insurance in case one of the two mentioned players decides to leave, or someone else surprisingly transfers.

Houston could take a step back with the expected departures of DeJon Jarreau and a couple of frontcourt players, while Quentin Grimes could also head to the NBA. With Kelvin Sampson at the helm and the way the Cougars defend, they should rank in the preseason top 25, but another Final Four seems like a stretch.

Gasaway: Famous last words here, but the Bruins seem to hit the sweet spot “he will be highly rated next season.” Mick Cronin has a Final Four team with zero seniors and also zero players currently listed in the top 100 of ESPN’s NBA draft rankings. In Houston, Jarreau is a senior, and has been both the Cougars’ leading defender on ball and their best distributor. Jarreau will be difficult to replace.

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Raising your hands! Mitchell Extends Baylor Lead

Baylor’s Davion Mitchell scores a triple to end the first half that has him and his teammates up on the scoreboard by 25 points.

Lunardi: It’s easy to see UCLA as a preseason team in the top 10 next season, with Houston closer to “others getting votes.” Of course, UCLA has already shown that sorting and seeding mean next to nothing when it comes to moving forward in March (or even April). I have no idea who’s next to make it to any Final Four, but it’s fair to say that the UCLA program is in a better position overall than Houston to book a return commitment.

Medcalf: I think UCLA, especially if Juzang comes back and Smith recovers from his knee injury at the end of the season. The Bruins can take momentum from this race and build on it. I think it also improves the recruiting landscape for the Mick Cronin program. “You can win a national title at UCLA” hasn’t been a real thing in basketball for over a decade. Now, it is real. This is an incredible achievement in season two for any coach.

But the UCLA brand, in good times, is powerful, and supporters of that program have been waiting for another opportunity to back a national contender for the title. But I also think Kelvin Sampson can make Houston a hub for a number of portal transfers. Jarreau and Grimes just led Houston to their first national semifinal appearance in 37 years. I think both teams will be competitive in the coming years.

We’ll save the scoring predictions for Monday, but what is the head-to-head player match that you look forward to the most in the national championship?

Borzello: Jalen Suggs vs. Davion Mitchell. Suggs is one of the top five prospects in the NBA draft and has established himself as a truly special player, while Mitchell has increased his shares as much as anyone else in the NCAA tournament. Mitchell tends to protect the opposing team’s best backcourt scorer, and Suggs fits the bill. Mitchell has made life difficult for all kinds of perimeter players throughout the season, most recently Moses Moody and Quentin Grimes. Suggs has next-level speed and explosiveness, however, and will provide an entirely different problem for Mitchell. At the other extreme, Suggs’s physicality can overwhelm opponents, at times, and he’s likely to enjoy the opportunity to slow Mitchell down, assuming Suggs isn’t protecting Jared Butler.

Gasaway: Dame Mitchell vs. Suggest over and over and over again. I wish this was a seven game series. Both players are projected as 2021 lottery picks by ESPN.com, and both give their already great teams a whole new dimension. The funny thing about my perfect little hypothetical showdown, though, is that sometimes wishes don’t come true. Mitchell is unlikely to protect Suggs exclusively, and I’ll be very interested in seeing Scott Drew deploy his defensive talents. I wouldn’t be too surprised, for example, to see Mitchell spend some quality time allotted to Andrew Nembhard. The Florida transfer takes Gonzaga into minutes during the tournament and quite often he has the ball in his hands in the midfield, and Nembhard has been praised by Mark Few as one of the best players he has ever had at pick-and-play. roll.

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Baylor capitalizes on offensive rebound and assists Butler for triple

Baylor’s Adam Flagler grabs the offensive rebound and serves Jared Butler for the triple.

Lunardi: Definitely Mitchell at Suggs. Can’t you see the veteran chasing the freshman on the last possession of a tying game? It’s not quite Bird and Magic, but we’ll see both of them on an NBA stage for a long, long time.

Medcalf: My colleagues are right. But I think Mark Vital and later Baylor defenders against Drew Timme could decide the game. All season, we’ve heard the same question about Baylor: Do the Bears have enough size and ability on the inside to beat a built team like Gonzaga? Vital is an important player for Scott Drew. He’s 6-foot-5 with a lot of Chuck Hayes in his game. Vital is so physically strong that the bigger players never push him. If Timme is dominant and Drew has to find a way to send more help, it will create more space for the rest of Gonzaga’s playmakers. It could also mean that Drew has to insert Matthew Mayer into the game first. Flo Thamba and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua will also be critical in this game. But if Vital & Co. can hold up against the best postal player in America, it will be a game changer. Timme will see some defenders on Monday. It may not be the sexiest showdown in the game, but it’s arguably the most important.

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