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Final Four: What you need to know ahead of Baylor vs. Gonzaga

Nick Bromberg
·5-min read

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 1 Gonzaga

9:20 p.m. ET Monday, April 5 (CBS)

Gonzaga -4.5, O/U 160

We’re going to get to see a game between Baylor and Gonzaga after all. The two teams were set to play on Dec. 5 in Indianapolis but that game was called off due to COVID-19 cases at Gonzaga. Now, exactly four months later, the two best men’s college basketball teams in the country will play each other for the national championship after Jalen Suggs hit one of the best buzzer-beaters in NCAA tournament history. It’s a fitting end to the season as Gonzaga tries to be the first team in 45 years to finish the season undefeated.

Here’s what you need to know about each of the top seeds before they tip off Monday night.

Baylor

Record: 27-2

Points per game: 82.8

Opponent points per game: 65.3

Leading scorer: Jared Butler, 16.6 points per game

Best regular-season win: 82-69 vs. Illinois (Dec. 2)

Baylor guard Davion Mitchell (45) celebrates with teammate guard Mark Vital after making a 3-point basket at the end of the first half of a men's Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament semifinal game against Houston, Saturday, April 3, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Baylor made easy work of Houston on Saturday. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

How Baylor got here

First Round: Beat No. 16 Hartford 79-55

Second Round: Beat No. 9 Wisconsin 76-63

Sweet 16: Beat No. 5 Villanova 62-51

Elite Eight: Beat No. 3 Arkansas 81-72

Final Four: Beat Houston 78-59

How Baylor can win: The Bears are the best 3-point shooting team in the country. Baylor averages over 41% on threes as Butler shoots nearly 42% on six attempts per game. No Bear who attempts more than two threes per game shoots worse than 37% from deep.

Baylor is unbeatable when it’s making its threes — Baylor’s two losses came to Kansas and Oklahoma State and the Bears shot less than 30% from behind the arc in those two matchups.

Baylor is also playing some of its best basketball of the season during the tournament. Those two losses came after Baylor didn’t play for three weeks in February because of a COVID-19 outbreak. When Baylor returned from that hiatus, the Bears didn’t seem as sharp as they were in the first two months of the season.

The questions about what Baylor lost during that break have disappeared during the tournament as the Bears have won each of their five games by nine points or more.

Where Baylor is vulnerable: Let’s get this out of the way. Finding vulnerabilities about both Baylor and Gonzaga is nitpicking. This is the just the second time in college basketball history where the national championship game features teams that have been ranked in the top three all season. The other time was in 1962 when Ohio State and Cincinnati played for the national title.

Baylor ranks just 298th in defensive rebounds per game and was the worst defensive rebounding team in the Big 12. It’s fair to say that Baylor can be vulnerable on the glass even after the Bears locked out a tenacious Houston team from the boards on Saturday night. A season’s worth of games is a pretty worthy sample size.

Baylor is also not that great of a free throw shooting team. The Bears shot just 67% from the line in conference play and was worst in the Big 12. If this game is as close as we think it could be, missed free throws could loom large. 

Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs (1) celebrates making the game winning basket against UCLA during overtime in a men's Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament semifinal game, Saturday, April 3, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Gonzaga won 93-90. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs hit an epic game-winner to beat UCLA on Saturday. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Gonzaga

Record: 31-0

Points per game: 91.6

Opponent points per game: 69.2

Leading scorer: Drew Timme, 19.2 points per game

Best regular-season win: 99-88 vs. Iowa (Dec. 19)

How Gonzaga got here

First Round: Beat No. 16 Norfolk State 98-55

Second Round: Beat No. 8 Oklahoma 87-71

Sweet 16: Beat No. 5 Creighton 83-65

Elite Eight: Beat No. 6 USC 85-66

Final Four: Beat UCLA 93-90 (OT)

How Gonzaga can win: The Bulldogs are one of the best offensive teams in recent college basketball history. Four players average at least 12 points per game and Gonzaga is absolutely ruthless on two-pointers.

The Bulldogs shoot a remarkable 64% inside the arc. Eighteen teams this season shot a lower percentage from the free throw line. And that group includes NIT champion Memphis.

Timme makes over two-thirds of his twos while unsung Final Four hero Joel Ayayi shoots 68% from inside the arc. Every Gonzaga starter shoots at least 58% from two-point range.

A normal night for Gonzaga is a hot shooting night for whole lot of other teams across the country. And, like Baylor, Gonzaga shoots a lot. Both teams average over 60 field goal attempts per game. If Gonzaga can run and get some easy buckets in transition, they should be able to keep Baylor at bay.

And if Gonzaga does win, it'll be the first team since Indiana in 1976 to go the entire season without a single loss. 

Where Gonzaga is vulnerable: Baylor brings three players off the bench who play at least 15 minutes per game. Just one Gonzaga bench player — Anton Watson — plays more than 15 minutes a game.

While Gonzaga’s starting five is incredible and has very few weaknesses, depth can be an issue for the Zags at times. Gonzaga gets 73.5 points per game from its starting five; if one or more players gets in foul trouble early, Baylor has a huge opportunity to take advantage.

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