The Baylor Bears had a lofty aspiration – they wanted to be undefeated going into the national championship game, preferably against an undefeated Gonzaga squad.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. And the Bears had some reason to be bitter, as a three-week hiatus that was forced upon them due to the COVID-19 virus had a definite effect on their sharpness. That led to a disappointing loss to Kansas. Later there was a defeat suffered at the hands of Oklahoma State, for which there was no excuse.
But some of the players believe that loss was a blessing in disguise, as it functioned as something of a wake-up call. And that is what they take into their desired matchup with those Gonzaga Bulldogs, which takes place at 9:20 PM ET at Lucas Oil Stadium.
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Here are their odds for the NCAA Championship Game:
Gonzaga Bulldogs -4.5
Baylor Bears +4.5
Over 159.5 Points -110
Under 159.5 Points -110
So what would support the case for the Bears?
First of all, it’s worth pointing out that Baylor might have a more diversified “portfolio” of superlatives than even Gonzaga does.
Let’s start out with their ability to crash the offensive boards. They are sixth best in the nation, pulling down nearly 37% of the possible offensive rebounds. You could say that is kind of a tradition with this program, as they have been in the top ten in Offensive Rebounding Percentage for eight consecutive seasons. So you can expect that they will definitely challenge Gonzaga in that area.
And over the course of the season, Baylor has been the top three-point shooting team in the country, at 41.2%. Things got somewhat choppy after the team’s February hiatus, but the Bears got things going in a big way against Houston in their resounding 78-59 win on Saturday, making eleven of 24 from long-range. If they’ve regained their good form, they could pose a lot of trouble. Let’s put it this way – Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler combined to make seven of 11 triples on Saturday.
Another thing Baylor has proven to be extremely good at is forcing turnovers on the part of their opponents. They are third best in the nation in that category, in fact. One of the highlights came against Hartford in the tournament opener, as they forced 24 TO’s.
But they aren’t just bullying teams from the mini-majors; the Bears have blown up offenses that simply don’t get blown up. Wisconsin finished the season as #1 in the country in Offensive Turnover Percentage. But that didn’t matter, as Baylor made them cough it up 13 times, the second most for the Badgers all year. And Villanova, the third stingiest team, tied a season high with 16 TO’s. The Bears intend to create some havoc in the half-court, and although Gonzaga is a good ball-handling club, they aren’t exactly conservative or deliberate with the ball.
Baylor has the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year in Davion Mitchell, and if there is anyone who can give Jalen Suggs a hard time, he can. They also has guys coming off the bench who make meaningful contributions. For example, when Matthew Mayer comes in the game, the energy level ramps up. He had twelve points in 19 minutes against Houston. And Jonathan Tchatchoula had eleven points and four offensive rebounds off the bench the other night.
And it can’t hurt Baylor that they did not have to extend themselves too much against the Cougars, while Gonzaga had life-and-death against UCLA in an overtime game, with four starters logging at least 40 minutes of action.
Maybe they’ll have more “gas in the tank’ in the second half.
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