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No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 1 Gonzaga preview, picks for the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship

The Gonzaga Bulldogs and Baylor Bears meet at Lucas Oil Arena in the final of 2021 NCAA Tournament. We’ve got everything you need on both teams ahead of the championship game here.

Why Gonzaga-Baylor is a can’t miss game

We’ve got the two bets teams in college basketball all season long playing for the national championship. The 31-0 Gonzaga Bulldogs take on the 27-2 Baylor Bears in a makeup that was supposed to take place on December 5, ironically also in Indianapolis, but positive COVID-19 tests at Gonzaga took it off the schedule.

Now instead of playing in a preseason tune-up, they’ll play for history. The don’t miss game of the decade is here.

The 2021 NCAA men’s basketball championship is set for Monday, April 5th at 9:00 p.m. ET on CBS. Gonzaga enters as 4.5-point favorites.

No. 1 Baylor 27-2 (13-1 Big 12)

First Round: Defeated No. 16 Hartford 79-55
Second Round: Defeated No. 9 Wisconsin 76-63
Third Round: Defeated No. 5 Villanova 62-51
Fourth Round: Defeated No. 3 Arkansas 81-72
Final Four: Defeated No. 2 Houston 78-59
KenPom rating: 2 Overall, 2 Offense, 27 Defense
Leading scorer: Jared Butler (16.6 ppg)
Key stat of tournament: Baylor has shot 41-108 from three-point range in the tournament.

There’s nothing the Bears don’t do well, but what they do spectacularly is shoot the basketball. Their 41.2% from three-point range is the best in college basketball, and KenPom has them as the No. 2 offense by adjusted efficiency, which takes points per possession and adds a coefficient for schedule weight. The No. 1 offense? Their opponent.

You can’t call Baylor a positionless team with Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Matthew Mayer on the floor, but they play a ton of four-out basketball. The deadly shooting is what sets up the rest of wha they do, which is spacing to create driving lanes that lead either to layups or late defensive rotations that lead to open shots for teammates.

They don’t defend at an elite level statistically (27th in adjusted efficiency), but they are long and help with terrific cohesion. Being able to switch multiple positions is a big help in trying to defend the Zags, and that they’ll be able to do plenty with Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Davion Mitchell passing off screens and cuts with good communication.

No. 1 Gonzaga 31-0 (15-0 WCC)

First Round: Defeated No. 16 Norfolk State 98-55
Second Round: Defeated No. 8 Oklahoma 87-71
Third Round: Defeated No. 5 Creighton 83-65
Fourth Round: Defeated No. 6 USC 85-66
Final Four: Defeated No. 11 UCLA 93-90
KenPom rating: 1 Overall, 1 Offense, 5 Defense
Leading scorer: Corey Kispert (19.0 ppg)
Key stat of tournament: Gonzaga hit this shot to advance to the national championship and you will never forget it.

They’re likely the best basketball team of the century, and are chasing history and the last perfect team ever in the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. The Zags hadn’t really been tested late since December, but the Game of The Millennium Saturday night showed they can do it in overtime when the pressure is on as well.

Gonzaga is ballet as motion offense. They way the team syncs together as five allocations of the same microchip is almost unparalleled in college basketball history. They find cutters and see passing lanes in ways no team in college basketball has ever shown before, with a pulchritude that is equal parts breathtaking and overwhelming. They are clinical and joyful. They read each others thoughts defensively. And they have been the best thing about college basketball in 2020-21.

You know about Drew Timme, Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs, Joel Ayayi, and the rest. But what separates them is how well they play together. Suggs is likely a top 3 pick in the next NBA Draft, and the rest are very, very good basketball players. But the way Mark Few has put these pieces together is incredible. They make 63.9% of their shots from two-point range, because so many are perfect post-ups from flawless footwork, or wide open due to a pinpoint pass finding a clairvoyant cut.

They also do it with speed: Their 74.5 possession per game is eighth in all of college basketball. Baylor’s 69.3 is 169th. The Zags will want to run and gun and play in transition and secondary breaks as much as possible.

March Madness Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

Point spread: Gonzaga -4.5
Point total: 160
Moneyline: Gonzaga

The Pick

Against The Spread Pick: Gonzaga -4.5
Point total pick: Under 160
Pick to Win: Gonzaga

It’s hard not to let recency bias get in the way, but Gonzaga played a B- game for them last, and beat an all-time performance from UCLA. The Bruins had a points per possession of 1.24 and lost, which on the surface seems almost mathematically impossible.

Timme should be the difference here, as Baylor won’t have an answer for both his passing and shooting from the high post. If that gets taken away via overplay from the Baylor bigs, look for plenty of duck-ins and quick baskets near the rim from well-delivered entries.

UCLA’s pack-it-in-and-pray strategy almost worked last night, but that’s a blip in the continuum. Baylor will try and use their length and speed to close out on Gonzaga, but that just means the Bulldogs are a pass away from being a pass away from getting a matchup advantage that leads to another well-taken shot.

It will be a classic, but Mark Few finally gets his championship.

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