The National Championship matchup the college basketball world has craved for this entire year is upon us. It is a great clash, of great stories as both Mark Few and Scott Drew have turned their programs into college basketball powers over the last 15 years. All those years of developing multiple generations of talent, it all comes down to tonight to see which coach will be cemented in college basketball immortality.
The top two seeds in the entire tournament clash, in a must watch spectacle Monday night. It is just the fifth time in college basketball history where we have seen the top two overall seeds meet in the Championship game- the first time since North Carolina and Illinois met in the 2005 championship game.
Gonzaga, is coming off an instant classic where they needed a last second Jalen Suggs half court three at the buzzer to beat UCLA. The 93-90 final, was one of the best college basketball games in the last decade. While the UCLA and Gonzaga Final Four matchup will be tough one to follow, this is going to be a fantastic game.
We have the most efficient offense in college basketball history going against one of the top defenses in the country. There will be five AP All American’s on the floor at times and numerous future NBA players.
Betting Wise: There’s is a ton of market disagreement in this national championship matchup. This isn’t a sharps vs the public type of scenario. There is legitimate argument you can make for both teams to cover/win this game. So I will give my path for success for both teams and let you decide which team you guys want to take.
Baylor’s Path to Success:
We will first make the case for Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears. Baylor has been neck and neck with Gonzaga as the 1B team all year long. Baylor goes eight deep, with several guys off the bench that would start on 90 percent of power conference rosters. The Bears are headlined by their two NBA guards in Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell. For my money, the Bears may have the best two-way backcourt in the entire country. But the Bears will need their guards to carry them on the offensive end to keep up with the Zags firepower.
I wouldn’t say Gonzaga’s defense was exploited when UCLA scored 90 on them Saturday night. UCLA shot over 60 percent from the mid-range area and made every impossible shot. Typically, that is not the most efficient path to offensive success. I don’t think that is the way Scott Drew and his team is going to attack Gonzaga.
Instead, one thing UCLA did a really great job doing was exploiting Drew Timme’s bad pick and roll defense. The Bruins played small virtually the whole game and were able to get favorable switches onto Timme. I expect Drew to play a similar small ball lineup that may have Matt Mayer at the four and Mark Vital at the five.
Speaking of which, I think Mayer should be the X Factor for a Baylor here. We saw Cody Riley look like his former teammate Thomas Welsh knocking down open mid range jumpers. That is an area Mayer will be able to feast. When an offensively limited Cody Riley abuses you on the pick and pop, I can only imagine what Mayer will do.
Davion Mitchell has also been tremendous on getting down hill and drawing fouls this entire tournament. Baylor is the best three point shooting team in the country, so they create tons of space for Mitchell. If Mitchell is able to efficiently drive and create open looks for Baylor’s automatic shooters, the Bears will have success on Monday. For Baylor to have a chance, Mitchell and Butler will have to play perfectly. Baylor has used their defense to overcome tough shooting nights in the NCAA tournament. In this game, Baylor will need their offense to bail out the stops they won’t be able to get against Gonzaga.
Gonzaga’s path to success:
Defensively, I’m not sure the Bears have a path to success against Gonzaga’s offense. To be fair to them, I don’t think any defense does. When Gonzaga is on, they are impossible to stop. The Zags don’t have off nights because they don’t rely on playing one on one basketball. Their ball movement and offensive execution is one of a kind. It’s the main reason why the Zags have the greatest offensive efficiency rating in the history of the sport.
Davion Mitchell is probably the best on ball defender Jalen Suggs will face all year. But you need multiple elite defenders and tremendous defensive execution to beat Gonzaga. I thought Mick Cronin came out with the perfect defensive game plan, but the Zags still ran through the UCLA defense.
Gonzaga has a great matchup here. The Bears lack the elite rim protector to stop Timme inside. If Timme can make USC's Evan Mobley look silly down low, nobody can stop him. Timme has scored the most points inside the paint than anyone in the NCAA tournament since 2010. Outside of scoring, Timme value supersedes other big man with his ability to pass to open cutters and shooters from the paint. Flo Thamba, Jonathan Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua or Vital will provide much resistance. Outside of Timme the Zags of four other guys who can take over the game at any point with Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, Andrew Nembhard, or Joel Ayayi. Baylor has also struggled against live ball turnovers, and struggled defensively at times against an up tempo Arkansas team.
I am totally buying the Gonzaga’s team of destiny angle here. Jalen Suggs game winning shot against UCLA doesn’t mean anything if the Zags can’t beat Baylor tonight. Mark Few has had a King David like rise at Gonzaga, from being a tiny underdog to being on the footsteps of ruling an entire kingdom. It’s about damn time for Mark Few to secure that damn crowd. UCLA made this Gonzaga team somewhat mortal. But I think we see the best game from Gonzaga here, and no team can stop them when they are on. I have a preseason future on Gonzaga and I’m not hedging a dime. Take the Zags to cut down the nets tonight.
The pick: Gonzaga (-4.5)
Props: Matthew Mayer over 9.5 points, Corey Kispert over 2.5 threes
Follow Austin on Twitter @AMontgomeryLive