The centerpiece of college sports, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, concludes tonight in a game that clearly features the best two teams in the country matching skills to determine the National Champion. While every tournament has its twist and turns with upsets and buzzer beaters, this year’s tournament has wound through all the 2021 action to land us with a final that features a pair of top seeds, the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Baylor Bears.
Both teams are in search of their first ever National Championship, and Gonzaga is looking to become the first undefeated champion since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. While Gonzaga has been perched atop the basketball rankings for nearly the entire season, Baylor had a dip when they were confronted with Covid-19 issues. Four of their regular season games were cancelled but still they won the Big 12 with a 13-1 conference record.
Despite losing to Oklahoma State in the second round of the Big 12 Tournament, they maintained a number one seed for the NCAA Tournament.
An argument can be made that Baylor is playing their best basketball right now, they have recovered from their regular season interruption and crushed the Houston Cougars on Saturday, 78-59.
While Baylor coasted to their weekend win, the Bulldogs had their most serious challenge of the year before edging UCLA with a near half court game deciding overtime basket. The three point win over the Bruins offers two sides to consider in Gonzaga completing their perfect season.
First, one of the knocks on Mark Few’s undefeated Gonzaga squad is that they have not been challenged, and how would they respond in a competitive game?
Second, the competition they face in the West Coast conference is not as tough as what they would face in one of the recognized major conferences, read that as the ACC, Pac 12, Big 10 and Big 12 among others that would be considered superior to the one Gonzaga has dominated since Few was named head coach in 1999. The Gonzaga coach is now completing his 23rd season with the team and has a winning percentage of .834.
On Saturday, Baylor played a perfect game in their dominating win, but it could also be said that UCLA played as well as they could in their narrow loss to Gonzaga. The Bulldogs had won their first four games while easily covering the point spreads, then got tripped up on the line on Saturday while double-digit favorites and eeking out the narrow victory.
What this does for the undefeated Bulldogs is take away the air of invincibility and reignite their focus for the challenge ahead.
Good teams almost always respond to a loss, while great teams elevate their game after a narrow win.
Gonzaga is a great team, and I expect while they complete their perfect season they will also cover the 4½ point spread.