The Final Four has lots of great stories.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin has finally made the Final Four after many years of coming up just short. Houston is making its first Final Four since 1984. Baylor is making its first Final Four since 1950. Yet, the biggest story at the 2021 Final Four is clearly Gonzaga.
The Bulldogs are unbeaten heading into the weekend. They are just two wins away from becoming the first Division I men’s basketball team to go unbeaten and win the national championship since the Indiana Hoosiers in 1976.
Let’s look at the Zags as they prepare for the biggest weekend of their lives and try to bring this small Jesuit school in Spokane a first national title. Can they deliver on the college basketball odds and cut down the nets on Monday?
How They Got Here
The Zags crushed Norfolk State in the first round and have not slowed since.
Gonzaga has beaten all four of its NCAA Tournament opponents by at least 16 points – eighth-seeded Oklahoma, fifth-seeded Creighton, and sixth-seeded USC.
None of the games have been close. Gonzaga is simply playing a different kind of basketball relative to every other team in this tournament with the exception of Baylor, the team the Zags might face Monday night for the national championship.
Lots of people thought when the brackets were revealed on Selection Sunday that Gonzaga had an easy path to the Final Four.
Yet, it’s one thing to have an easy path on paper, and it’s another thing to win games easily and play several notches above the competition.
Gonzaga has actually gone on the court and made each game look like a breeze.
The Zags average over 90 points per game and they have scored at least 83 points in every tournament game they have played. GU is averaging 88 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, which ranks them among the most highest-scoring offenses in terms of points-per-game all-time in March Madness.
The Zags are strong everywhere. They might not have a dominant defense, but they got six steals in the Elite Eight win over USC and used those steals to fuel fast breaks the other direction, where they are lethal.
On offense, however, this is the best team in the country. Again, the team averages over 90 points per game, which is ridiculous. The Zags hit 50 percent of their shots in an 85-66 win over USC in the Elite Eight … and that was with the team hitting only 7 of 21 3-pointers. The Zags were 26-of-45 on 2-point field goal attempts, just under 60%. The impressive part about that statistic: USC led the nation in 2-point field goal percentage defense. Gonzaga destroyed that defense and roared to an easy win on a night when it led by 21 points.
Gonzaga has three All-Americans: point guard Jalen Suggs, big man Drew Timme, and wing shooter Corey Kispert. Timme scored 23 points against USC. Suggs had 18 with 10 rebounds and eight assists. They are all elite players; taking away one of the three is doable, but taking away two of the three is nearly impossible. Taking away all three? Forget about it.
The Zags’ defense is fine, but it is not great. A team with an elite point guard can minimize turnovers and score against Gonzaga, engaging the Bulldogs in a shootout. If GU misses 3-pointers, that’s the formula for an upset.
The Zags are favored by 14 points over UCLA in the sportsbook and by all accounts, they should roll in that semifinal on Saturday. Gonzaga-Baylor is the game everyone in college basketball wanted to see at some point this season and chances are we will get that game next Monday night. Truth be told, these two have been the two best teams in all of college basketball this season and they should be the final matchup we get to see.