National Championship Preview: Gonzaga vs. Baylor

Story posted April 5, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Austin Groft

This is the moment all college basketball fans have been waiting for. After a long two-year wait, we will finally crown a national championship winner in what might be the most anticipated college basketball matchup of all time.

The Baylor and Gonzaga matchup has been long awaited after their regular season meeting was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. Some may say this is a blessing since we get to see them play each other for the first time under the brightest lights.

Can Gonzaga go 32-0 and become the first team to finish the season undefeated since Indiana did it back in 1975-76? Both Duke and Kentucky did not make the NCAA tournament that year. Now in 2021, both Duke and Kentucky failed to reach the tournament—the first time since 1976. Could this mean the stars are falling in line for Gonzaga?

Mark Few’s team was challenged in its closest game all season in a thrilling Final Four outing versus UCLA. Thanks to Jalen Suggs, a game-winning bank shot in overtime from near midcourt sent the Bulldogs team to the title game.

This was their only single-digit win all season since their 87-82 victory over West Virginia back on Dec. 2, 2020.

Aside from the Bulldogs, this is the Baylor team that we saw in the Jimmy V classic when they played against Illinois. There were questions about the Bears coming into the tournament with their questionable end to the season, in which they dropped games to Kansas and Oklahoma State.

But what can you expect from Baylor? They lost these games after a long COVID-19 pause, and the Big 12 was arguably the best conference this year. The Bears are battle-tested.

Comparing the two teams side by side is a tough feat since both teams vary little statistically. Their rosters have several star players who will surely make a name for themselves at the next level.

Gonzaga’s scoring is led by Corey Kispert and Drew Timme. These star forwards will be guarded by Baylor’s starting role players in Mark Vital and Flo Thamba. Timme will expose Thamba, especially since he is the weakest link in Baylor’s starting five.

Vital and Kispert are both fourth-year seniors and are each team’s respective leaders who have completely different play styles. Kispert isn’t the best defender but provides for his team offensively whereas Vital is a 6-foot-5-inch forward who plays like he’s 6 feet 10 inches using his physicality.

In the Bulldogs’ game against UCLA, we saw other key players step up when Timme and Kispert struggled to score from the get-go. Joel Ayayi went out and netted a career-high 22 points. The freshman Suggs had a quiet 16 points and is capable of dropping more than 20.

But Baylor head coach Scott Drew has the best backcourt in the nation with Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague accounting for an average of 42.6 points per game. Baylor is also the best 3-point shooting team in the nation, hitting 41.2% from beyond the arc.

On the defensive side of the ball, Baylor is allowing only 60 points per game in the tournament. The Bears were all over the court with an impressive defensive stand against Houston. Gonzaga has a different approach where it just tries to out-score teams with its fast-paced tempo.

Baylor’s bench depth has the edge over Gonzaga and doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Matthew Mayer, Adam Flagler and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua could all be starters on other teams.

This game could go either way. Each team has what it takes to win the national championship, and after what has already been an eventful season, it will surely end in historical fashion.

At the end of the night, I have to take the team I picked to win it all from the beginning of the season. Baylor will take the 2021 national title with the defensive advantage in what will be a game for the ages.

Prediction: Baylor 85, Gonzaga 82

 

Austin Groft is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, please email him at atg5271@psu.edu.