Baylor vs. Gonzaga: Sometimes, It Is That Easy
One of the facets of the “madness” in the March Madness that is the NCAA Tournament is that typically in the men’s version, lower-seed teams upset traditional college powerhouses in the first weekend. A few, like Loyola-Chicago and Oregon State, even threaten to be a part of the third weekend. Usually, the Final Four is made up of really good teams that most knew were really good since the season started. But because of the Madness, and the idea that we can know the matchups so well that our dark horses advance further in the race than others think, a lot of us talk ourselves out of obvious choices when filling out brackets.
Gonzaga and Baylor have been the two best teams all season long. They were ranked first and second, respectively, in the AP Preseason Top 25. And while change is inevitable and most of those teams in the preseason polls do not justify those rankings – Duke and Kentucky being in the top 10 immediately comes to mind – the Bulldogs and the Bears have remained at the top of actual polls and been prohibitive favorites for months. This leads me to this idea when it comes to those who seek to predict contenders:
Sometimes, it is that easy.
Gonzaga is the best team in the country. They have every element needed to capture the men’s NCAA Championship tonight. They’re led by future NBA lottery pick freshman Jalen Suggs, sophomore Drew Timmie and senior Corey Kispert. A bigger fact then their scoring output (91.6 points per game) is that they’re beating opponents by almost 23 points per game. Gonzaga isn’t just winning, they’re dominating. This is certainly head coach Mark Few’s best group of players in the two decades the ‘Zags have been in the national spotlight.
Just over 1,900 miles southeast of Spokane, WA, Scott Drew has assembled a roster at Baylor that looks to smother on defense. Led by junior guards Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler, the Bears are only allowing their opponents to score 65 points a contest, while they score 82 a game. That margin isn’t as wide as Gonzaga’s differential but it is clear that Baylor is also tangibly better than the other teams in the nation.
Since 2010, the men’s NCAA Championship Game had at least one team ranked in the AP Preseason Top 10. There are outliers, such as UConn’s Kemba Walker-led Tournament run in 2011 in which the Huskies started the season unranked. But there are also instances like 2013 where both participants Louisville and Michigan started the season ranked in the top five. So the data shows that it is certainly likely one title game contender will be near the top of the polls white the other will play better than the consensus projects. Most times, actually playing out the season helps us gather information on how we shape the end of our brackets. And other times, that conventional thinking can be set aside to pick number one and number two.
The two teams with the biggest differential and the most ways to win a game are meeting in the championship game. And while the choice between these two and 66 other teams seems to favor the field, this time it was easy to predict who’d be looking to cut down the nets tonight. Good luck to both teams and may the game be worthy of the caliber of both programs.