Keith: Sheesh, what a tournament this has been. After sitting through a tournament-less 2020, basketball fans have been treated to an insane tournament that has set a new record for upsets (based on the five seed barometer). What has been the biggest surprise to you over the last two weeks?
Peter: All the upsets aside, I’m still recuperating from the Gonzaga demolition over USC. Mainly because it seemed on paper that USC would give Gonzaga issues and I had Final Four panics flashing through my eyes. I’m mainly surprised that I bought into all the hype that Gonzaga is mortal, because they sure as hell have looked everything but that during this NCAA Tournament run. The Zags entered the tournament undefeated, but coming off their closest-ish near miss against BYU. There is so much pressure riding on this team at the moment, both in the local history books and in the national history books, and they are just meeting it every step of the way, and then some.
Steven: I’m not necessarily surprised that the Pac 12 outperformed the Big 10, but I am surprised by how MUCH they outperformed the Big 10. I believe the B10 finished 8-9 overall in the tournament after Michigan lost to UCLA while the Pac 12 got three Elite Eight teams and one team playing in the Final Four. Oregon State made an incredible run. USC and Oregon showcased their talents. Colorado absolutely smashed Georgetown after being a trendy upset pick. UCLA is obviously still playing for a chance at a National Title. It’s just been a huge rejuvenation for West Coast basketball, which is awesome.
KY: This has certainly been a great two weeks for the west coast, best coast crowd. For me, it was the Longhorns first round loss to Abilene Christian coming off the back of winning the Big 12 tournament. Not only was it a stunning result, but it also set the stage for Shaka Smart to preempt the firing that was almost surely coming his way sometime in the next 12 months by returning to his native Wisconsin and taking the reigns at Marquette. That was not an outcome I saw coming when this tournament began.
SK: Oral Bob coming one buzzer beater away from being the first 15 seed to make an Elite Eight was also an incredible story. Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor were unbelievable.
KY: I truly thought we were going to be seeing a highlight of that Abmas shot at the end of the game for the next 40 years.
PW: This tournament has definitely made up for the fact we did not get one last year.
SK: And Gonzaga has avoided the upset bug by slapping teams by 20 every night
KY: The aforementioned Texas loss also helped clear the path just a little bit for UCLA to emerge from its region by getting from the First Four to the Final Four. The Bruins didn’t get here by drawing Abilene Christian in the second round though, as they earned their place by knocking off the top two seeds in their region. What are your initial thoughts and impressions about Gonzaga’s Final Four opponent?
PW: I mean, UCLA is surely on one of the more wacky tournament runs in recent memory. They entered the tournament on a four-game losing streak, and look at them now! Unfortunately, I just don’t really see how UCLA has a chance in this game given how Gonzaga has been playing this Tournament. Johnny Juzang has been unreal, but after watching the Zags chew up and spit out the Mobley brothers like cheap gas station sunflower seeds, I’m not too worried about UCLA’s offense somehow outscoring Gonzaga or their defense slowing the Zags down.
SK: I don’t know how John Calipari couldn’t find a bigger role for Johnny Juzang when he was at Kentucky. He’s been incredible. But they’re going to need him and Jules Bernard and Jaime Jaquez to all score 20+ to compete in this game and that’s a tough ask.
KY: The Bruins have pulled off some incredible wins in this tournament, but I just don’t see their path to beating Gonzaga in this game. And that kind of freaks me out, haha. Ironically, Gonzaga’s games against Saint Mary’s and Pacific might indeed be the best preparation they could have for this matchup in terms of the slow tempo and muck-it-up approach that Mick Cronin will implement to slow down the Zags. Those teams don’t have a talent like Juzang, but he won’t be enough to tip the scales in favor of UCLA. Gonzaga knows how to win a game against a team like the Bruins. They know how to win a game against any team, frankly, based on their performances this season.
PW: Turns out the WCC is good for something after all!
SK: Playing LMU and Santa Clara’s bigs in the final two games of the season was incredibly helpful when going against the Mobley brothers. Obviously those WCC bigs aren’t as skilled, but they had a ton of length and size.
KY: WCC stands for West Coast...Cauldron?
SK: Hey, Eli Scott is coming back next year! Keep growing this conference baby
KY: We are now one game away from getting the Gonzaga-Baylor final that we have been discussing and hoping for all season long. If we don’t get that matchup on Monday night, what will be the reason why?
SK: Houston played incredible defense and Baylor’s guards shot 5-for-16 from deep, which is absolutely possible. That game is going to be physical as hell.
PW: If Baylor shoots the three like they did against Villanova, I don’t think the Bears win that game against Houston. The Cougars defense is crazy good, and Baylor hasn’t exactly put together a full dominant stretch of 40 minutes of ball yet. If their shot is off, the defense is unreal. Sometimes the defense looks a bit slack but the shots have been unreal. I honestly think this game could be a coin toss.
KY: We’re all thinking the same thing—that it will be something in the Baylor-Houston game that prevents this matchup. A monster game from the Houston trio of Quentin Grimes, Marcus Sasser, and DeJon Jarreau at both ends of the floor spoils the dream final. Sasser was having a quiet tournament until their game against Oregon State, while Jarreau has had to battle through injuries. But if those three outduel Baylor’s backcourt, the Cougars will have to face Gonzaga on Monday night and won’t be able to schedule Our Lady of the Lake instead.
PW: It would honestly be quite the thing to talk about Gonzaga and Baylor all year and not get it at this point.
SK: Gonzaga would have to be one of, if not the only, double digit favorite in a Title game if they play Houston. The fact that they are favored by 14 in the Final Four over UCLA is absolutely insane. Explain that to a 2006 Gonzaga fan.
KY: I’m not sure a 2006 Gonzaga fan would believe anything you told them about the Zags this year, or the last 5 years, if we’re being honest.
PW: So explain it to me?
PW: We can talk about my emotional state of that UCLA game some other time.