The Gonzaga Bulldogs and Baylor Bears have been on a collision course to play in this game—the final contest of the 2020-21 college basketball season—since the day the season began back in November. We were supposed to get it on December 5, before COVID had other ideas, but we weren’t going to be denied. Now, for the ninth time in NCAA Tournament history, there will be a 1 v. 1 matchup in the final.
Gonzaga and Baylor were clearly in a class of their own this season despite the best efforts from pundits to shoehorn in the Big 10 flavor of the week as one of their contemporaries. Gonzaga cruised into the tournament and through the first four rounds with ease, before getting pushed to the limit by UCLA in the Final Four. Conversely, the Bears metaphorically stumbled into the tournament after not looking like themselves for several weeks after returning from their COVID-pause in February, but found their mojo in the second half of their Sweet 16 game against Villanova and now look back to their best after eviscerating the Houston Cougars on Saturday night. There are a lot of similarities between these two squads, and on Monday night we’ll finally find out which of the two is better.
Game date: Monday, April 5
Game time: 6:20 p.m. PT
TV channel: CBS
Online: NCAA March Madness Live
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Meet the Opponent
Baylor Bears, 27-2, KenPom #2
Baylor is powered by an exceptional group of guards in Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague, and Adam Flagler who get it done at both ends of the floor. Butler was named as a first team All-American and tends to get the top billing, but all four of them are fantastic. Mitchell has been Baylor’s most dynamic player during the tournament and his strength and quickness make him a very difficult cover. All four of them put a lot of stress on a defense because of their ability to space the floor and win one-on-one matchups. Inside, the Bears wield a troika of athletic and physical bigs in Mark Vital, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, and Flo Thamba, while 6’9” Matthew Mayer rounds it out as a very dangerous inside-out utility player for Scott Drew’s squad. Make no mistake, Baylor is a well-constructed team that plays very well together. Gonzaga will have its hands full.
What to Watch For
Ball Security and Physicality
Baylor forces turnovers on nearly 25% of its defensive possessions, and like Gonzaga, is deadly in transition. The Zags must take care of the ball to avoid giving the Bears easy buckets. Baylor plays physical and comes after the ball HARD, so Gonzaga needs to be very strong in securing possession, particularly on loose balls and rebounds. The Bears will take a swipe at the ball at every opportunity, and can put together some quick runs generated by their takeaways. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we all know Gonzaga excels at that aspect of the game as well. Gonzaga has the best transition offense in the country and can quickly get the ball up floor after long rebounds and turnovers, so this will be a battle of two strengths. The team that does the best job of limiting mistakes and taking care of the ball will have the upper hand.
Defending the Three-Point Line
Baylor leads the country in three-point field goal percentage with a 41.2% conversion rate from the arc. Mitchell (45.3%), Flagler (42.3%) Butler (41.5%), and Mayer (40%) all shoot the ball incredibly well, as proven by their season numbers from the arc. Because they have so many shooters and so many guys who can iso and win off the dribble which forces defenses to collapse, the Bears manufacture a lot of open shots from the perimeter thanks to their drive-and-dish game. Houston lost its Final Four game this way. Mitchell, in particular, has a lightning first step and will be an interesting matchup for the Gonzaga backcourt. Jalen Suggs might be Mark Few’s best option at slowing down Mitchell as he has the athleticism, strength, and size to defend Mitchell on an island which will allow the rest of Gonzaga’s defenders to stay home on their man.
Points in the Paint
While Baylor has the edge on the perimeter, Gonzaga has a clear cut advantage in the paint as the Bears don’t have a post-scorer at the level of Drew Timme (to be fair, no one does). Not one team in this tournament has been able to slow down Timme or match his paint production. Baylor will have a lot of bodies to throw at him between JTT, Flamba, and Vital (who is really fun to watch on defense due to his ability to switch 1-through-5), but Timme has proven all season long that he can find a way to score against anyone. Baylor’s bigs are all powerful and athletic which makes them dangerous in pick-and-roll actions, but they are not natural scorers in the paint and struggle to create on their own. If the Zags can maintain their advantage and convert a bunch of layups, as they have all year long, they should have the overall edge in this matchup.