The NCAA March Madness comes to a close, and boy did this tournament come back with a vengeance. There was a record for upsets as the majority of brackets got destroyed in the first weekend. We saw the greatest Cinderella run by 11-seed UCLA who, together with Gonzaga, delivered one of the most epic college basketball games of all time. All-time!
But everything comes full circle now as Gonzaga meets Baylor in the National Championship game this Monday just as many prognosticators drew up during the preseason.
Gonzaga is favored by 4½ points, but UCLA showed they’re human and can be beaten. Baylor has been heating up through the tournament and is gearing up to pull off this upset.
Let’s look at some NCAA finals prop bets that will paint a picture of how the Bears complete this improbable feat.
Jared Butler Main Scoring Option
Butler averaged five assists per game during 22 games in the regular season. The combo guard has excelled at running the pick-and-roll but is not a true pass-first facilitator. However, with a 27.1% usage rate, he will have the ball in his hands for most of the game.
It would behoove Gonzaga to force him to take shots as he’s only shooting 39.3% for the tournament. However, the focus of the Bulldogs’ defense will be on Davion Mitchell, the deadlier shooter. This will give Butler plenty of chances to be the main scoring option.
It won’t be pretty but bet on Butler to see the most scoring opportunities for his team. He may shoot under 40%, but with the attempts he’ll get, clearing 16 points shouldn’t be an issue.
Pick: Over 15½ Points (-115)
Davion Mitchell Becomes Facilitator
On the other end of the Bears’ guards is Mitchell, who is more of a deadeye shooter than an all-around playmaker. Mitchell is a decent passer although he’s begun to average six assists throughout the tournament thanks to defenses keying in on him.
Mitchell is either pouring it on from deep or he’s getting doubled and pressured to pass off. That’s why the senior has had at least 11 games this season where he’s dished at least seven assists. Gonzaga will likely have scouted him and chase him off the perimeter.
Another factor to consider is his impact on defense. Mitchell is the team’s best defender and averages 1.9 steals per game. Swiping the ball can lead to assists from points off turnovers, which the Bears can use to their advantage.
Pick: Over 5½ Assists (-115)
Drew Timme Gets Shut Down
This must sound like utter blasphemy especially if you’re backing the Zags. The sophomore has been unstoppable this tournament and is averaging 22 points a game on 64.2% shooting. Most impressively, he’s doing most of that without hitting threes.
Timme has been a force within the paint. The 6’10” power forward is strong and tough to keep out. He also gets around three offensive boards a game, which contributes to his scoring.
But the Bears have been stalwart at limiting inside scoring through the season. They’ve given up the third-fewest two-point field goal attempts within the Big 12 and also grab the 13th-most defensive boards in the nation.
Baylor should be able to limit what Timme can do inside. I expect him to still do damage and make his presence felt. But the big man will not hit 20 points in this game.
Pick: Under 21½ Points (-125)
Baylor Breaks It Open Versus Gonzaga
Baylor showed the world its “back!” with a massive first-half against the Cougars. Houston had the tenth-best defense per KenPom and Baylor shredded that defense to the tune of 45 points after 20 minutes.
Notably, both teams also played at a slower tempo than Gonzaga’s freeway pace. The Bears have so many weapons on the squad and have at least five players who can go off and score in double digits.
Gonzaga allowed UCLA to score 44 points in the first half and as inspiring as the Bruins were as a story, the Bears have significantly better talent. And they’re peaking at the right time.
I like for the Bears to take the fight to the Bulldogs and get the drop on them early. They should be the first to crack 40 points en route to a big victory this Monday night.