March Madness: An Early Look at the Men’s Final Four
Gonzaga vs. U.C.L.A. Houston vs. Baylor. Here are the ups and downs with each team.,
With some blowouts and plenty of busted brackets, we have arrived at the N.C.A.A. men’s Final Four. And the semifinal matchups promise some good story lines with a Texas intrastate clash and a top-seeded juggernaut facing one of the last teams selected to be in the field of 68.
Baylor is ready for a shootout.
After its 81-72 win against Arkansas, Baylor (28-3) made it to its first Final Four since 1950 and the Bears look as ready as ever. The Bears, the top seed in the South region, are a strong defensive team that is going to give Houston its most challenging matchup in the tournament. The Bears also have great 3-point shooting — the best in the men’s game at 41 percent.
Baylor is led by three skilled guards — Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell — who combine to score 46.5 of the team’s 83 average points per game.
The important thing for Baylor is to take advantage of its shooting strengths. Houston’s defense is a hard one to get past, but Baylor has the shooters to do it. They just have to make the shots.
Baylor struggles with turnovers, averaging 11.7 per game. That carelessness with the ball sometimes hurts the Bears, like it did when they allowed Arkansas to make a comeback from 17 points down. Houston’s elite and quick defense could take advantage if that happens again.
If defense wins championships, Houston could take the crown.
Defense, defense, defense — No. 2-seeded Houston (28-3) out of the Midwest region is great at it. The Cougars are making their first Final Four appearance since 1984 and looking like a team ready and able to stop any offense in its path. Houston is able to close in quick and force turnovers, making it the second best defense in men’s Division I, holding opponents to just 57.6 points per game.
Houston is led by Quentin Grimes, a transfer from Kansas who has found much success with the Cougars. Grimes averages 18 points and 5.8 rebounds and is key to the team’s offensive strategy.
The Cougars are also a great rebounding team, which will be particularly important against Baylor’s 3-point shooting to take those second-chance points away from the Bears.
Houston has to be able to either set the pace of the game or keep up with Baylor on the offensive end. It is clearly a strong team when it comes to preventing its opponents from making shots, but Houston still must make its own.
Grimes is important for the Cougars offense, but he isn’t all of it, and can’t be if Houston expects to beat Baylor.
Gonzaga is the favorite’s favorite.
Undefeated No. 1-seeded Gonzaga (30-0) is not the team to be make mistakes around. The Bulldogs, who easily won the West region, are dominant because they take advantage of turnover opportunities to score. This team also shares the ball well, averaging 18.6 assists.
The Bulldogs also score an average of 91.8 points per game — the most of any men’s team in Division I. They are extremely efficient, push the pace and can keep up with any kind of defense.
Gonzaga is led by Corey Kispert, who averages 19 points. Close behind is Drew Timme, averaging 18.9 points and 7.2 rebounds — he has scored a combined 45 points in the last two games. He is one of the most multifaceted players in college basketball and is one of several pro prospects among the Bulldogs.
No one has shown itself able to really threaten the Zags in their attempt to be the first undefeated champion since Indiana in 1976. It will be a big challenge for U.C.L.A. to get in the way.
Gonzaga is good, if not great, at most things. It made Southern California look completely outclassed on Tuesday night and showed some well-earned swagger in the process. But U.C.L.A. has toppled plenty of other teams in this tournament, including top-seeded Michigan.
U.C.L.A. is the underdog no one expected.
U.C.L.A., a No. 11 seed who had to play a First Four game just to enter the round of 64, is easily the surprise of this semifinal quartet after winning the East region. Coach Mick Cronin has no players with previous N.C.A.A. tournament experience on his roster. The Bruins are here for the first time since 2008, and are the second team to go from a play-in game to the Final Four.
The Bruins have had quite a path here, playing in two overtime games, including in the First Four against Michigan State. Upsetting Michigan, 51-49, they found a way to force the Wolverines into turnovers and take advantage. If the Bruins have proved anything in this tournament, it is resilience.
U.C.L.A. is a talented 3-point shooting team at 37.2 percent. Johnny Juzang averages 15 points and 4.1 rebounds, and he has continued to contribute in big ways even while contending with an ankle injury during the postseason. He scored 28 points in the round of 8 win.
“Nobody picked this, nobody believed in us,” Cronin said in a sideline interview after the win against Michigan. “That’s how we like it.”
The U.C.L.A. bench had no points in its win against Michigan. Its lack of depth could be a big problem against the versatile Bulldogs. If the Bruins don’t get contributions beyond their starters, they will have an even steeper climb keeping up with Gonzaga’s quick offense.
The Bruins have also struggled from the free throw line in their last few games which could cause problems, especially if they are being forced to drive instead of taking shots from behind the arc.
It is no secret that the Bruins are going to have to play the best game of their season to compete with Gonzaga, but they have been full of surprises this postseason.