Half of the men’s Final Four was played Monday night, with the Houston Panthers and Baylor Bears keeping their hopes of a national title alive. The NCAA tournament begins Tuesday, with the Gonzaga Bulldogs against the always-strong USC Trojans, followed by the resilient Michigan Wolverines and the 11th-seeded UCLA Bruins. ESPN.com’s college basketball team of Myron Medcalfe, Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway and Joe Lunardi discussed what they expect from Tuesday’s games, including their players to watch a rich competition of projected future NBA talent and a look at this weekend’s National Semifinals.
Can Houston, which finished 10th, 11th, 12th and 15th en route to its first Final Four since 1984, clear up any remaining doubts about its viability in the battle for the national championship? Can Baylor make the most of its first Final Four opportunity since 1950? Our team answered questions about March Madness. The field, which now has six teams, will likely be reduced to four on Tuesday night. Follow this link for Tuesday’s NCAA Tournament opening times, and go to this page to view your March Madness bracket or Second-Chance March Madness bracket.
None of ESPN’s 38 college basketball experts picked Houston for the Final Four before the tournament began. What made you wonder about the Cougars when you filled out the spreadsheet and did they clarify any questions you had about this four-game series?
Medcalf: I didn’t know if they could compete with the teams I thought Calvin Sampson’s team would need to win to reach the Final Four. And losses against Memphis and Wichita State didn’t boost my confidence in the Cougars, who also have two under-100 KenPom losses on their resume (Tulsa, East Carolina). But they can really shut teams down on defense – Ethan Thompson finished 3-for-12 in the Elite Eight – if they play an aggressive style. That’s enough to keep them in any game against any opponent. And Sampson’s coaching skills are widely recognized.
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But this is still a team that missed 42 shots and gave up 20 Monday night against Oregon State. Probably not enough to win a national championship. However, their physical superiority (19 offensive rebounds) allows the Cougars to control games. They’re a really good team. Summary: Houston should have been on my list of final four.
Borzello: Given Houston’s struggles against Memphis two weeks ago and a few other surprising hiccups in the final five to six weeks of the season, I was concerned that the Cougars wouldn’t be able to beat the top teams in their region. Through no fault of their own, they would not have been allowed to play against the top teams in their region. But all they could do was beat the teams in front of them, and they did that with two wins over Cleveland and Syracuse, they struggled against Rutgers, and needed some late shots to get past Oregon State.
The fact that they had problems with Rutgers and Oregon State doesn’t really worry me, but Quentin Grimes has been fantastic offensively, DeJohn Jarreau is an elite defender, and they’ve rebounded better than anyone else in the country. And they have one of the best coaches in the sport in Sampson. So you have a chance.
Houston prevented a late comeback by Oregon State thanks to a three-pointer by Quentin Grimes, and the Cougars never looked back en route to their first Final Four since 1984.
Gasaway: The experts were wrong! This commentator didn’t expect a team that played two thrillers against Memphis in a few days to be able to throw a 68 ball. No, Houston didn’t come up against an opponent higher than No. 10, but the Cougars played well enough to reach the Final Four, even though the entire field was chalked up to a loss. The Paeans, singing under Jarreau’s defense, deserved it, and I would only add that few teams in recent history have better demonstrated the tournament advantages of incredible rebounding on both ends of the floor.
Lunardi: Illinois’ presence atop Houston’s rankings was a major obstacle to the Cougars’ selection. But Loyola Chicago settled the issue, then Oregon settled Loyola, and finally the Cougars eliminated Oregon themselves. Overall, I share the concern that Houston will eventually need a more explosive team to continue. That hasn’t happened yet, allowing the Cougars to impose their will for four rounds. People like Baylor, Michigan or Gonzaga might have different ideas.
Baylor (first Final Four since 1950) had a disappointing first half against Villanova and let Arkansas get back into the game for a few minutes on Monday, but has otherwise made a very impressive impression this tournament. At some point you will have to answer this question, so we could do the exercise now From what you’ve seen, is there a chance this team is better than Gonzaga?
Gasaway: I am proud to say that I was at the foundation of a really better club. This possibility was posted by yours truly on social media when only three AP voters voted for Baylor as the #1 team. It seemed a little unfair against a group that played excellent defense while shooting 3s and every program in the country. But then came the KOVID-19 break, and the Bears’ numbers at the end of the Big 12 season looked only very good and not sensational for the defense. Teams could score against BU if they captured the ball well – which is obviously very difficult against Davion Mitchell. That said, I am no longer willing to sign a better petition. But it’s close, and I’d like to see this case resolved in court.
Lunardi: Arkansas had a convincing run for the Bears, but the Pigs’ initial hole was too big to fill at the end. So the possibility of a dream match with Gonzaga will live on for at least one more day. And as someone who bet on Baylor early in the season and reversed that bet early in the tournament, it’s understandable that I’m torn between the two. Let’s just say: If the teams played the best of seven on a neutral field, it would be a long series. I’d still take Gonzaga, who might have an extra offensive weapon or two, but for a single 40 minute game? The percentile is no higher than 51-49 (which, now that I think about it, could be a fraction!).
Davion Mitchell and Baylor have been outstanding on this journey to the Final Four. Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Medcalf: I don’t think they’re any better. But I also think it’s a different problem than that: Can Baylor beat Gonzaga? The answer is yes. I think the Bears have proven to be a unique group with three elite guards (Jared Butler, Macio Teague, and Davion Mitchell) that are just hard to find. With this trio on the court, they can make shots anywhere. Defensively, their speed doesn’t leave them much room. And they will feed you to their gunmen. Gonzaga is excellent in all areas.
But I think Baylor has a chance to win. It reminded us that three months ago we were all watching the Baylor-Gonzaga game, which was cancelled as a battle for the crown of America’s best team. I don’t think that’s changed. Gonzaga is ahead, but it doesn’t look like Baylor is too far behind – if the Bears have anything at all.
Borzello: I don’t want to say outright that Baylor is better than Gonzaga, because I think Gonzaga has been better since day one of the season … But Baylor was the only team that really had the potential to beat Gonzaga this season. In the break for the 19th. There was little discussion in the World Series that Baylor was one of the best two teams in the country. And with the way the Bears are playing in the NCAA tournament, I think it’s pretty clear again.
But I still don’t think Baylor is better than Gonzaga and won’t beat the Bulldogs next Monday night. Even during Baylor’s impressive run in the southern region, there have always been long periods where the Bears allowed teams to get back in the game or stay in the game longer than expected. Arkansas’ and Villanova’s 9-2 would be 15-2 Gonzaga. It’s going to take a big effort to slow down Drew Timm – and I think that’s the big difference between the two teams.
Evan Mobley showed the world during the NCAA Tournament why he is the NBA’s top pick. Mark Lebrick-USA Sports Today
TheGonzaga-USC team will host three potential lottery hopefuls, Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs and USC’s Evan Mobley, as well as another All-American and another star in this circuit, Drew Timme. Which of these four players will be most important for Tuesday’s game? Or will it be someone else?
Gasaway: The most important player of this quartet will be Mobley, as expectations are very high for him and especially for USC’s defense. Pac-12 players have converted just 43 percent of their shots on 2 against an inside defense anchored by Mobley, and surprisingly for a rookie, he has committed just two four fouls this season. Now he and his teammates face the country’s best offense, which has converted 64 percent of its attempts inside the arc this season. I think the sporting expression used here is that something really has to give. Gonzaga will force Mobley to come forward and defend against the edge, which he is perfectly capable of doing. If the rookie can make Tim work, both offensively and defensively, we could have a game here.
Medcalf: The final rounds of the NCAA tournament are a paradise for playmakers. Jalen Suggs must work – and avoid turnovers – to lead Gonzaga to victory. Not only. But his ability to change speeds and dictate the pace of the game will be the most important factor in this match. One of his gifts is his explosiveness. Suggs, 6-foot-7, won’t just work the sidelines. He’s going for the ring. According to Per hope-math.com, 51% of his shots have hit the rim this season.
I think that’s a difficult element to address on any team. They’re worried about Corey Kispert’s talent inside. You know you have to stop Drew Timm in the paint. Then Suggs can either find his shooters with his passing game or make the play himself. This could be the first time in the NCAA Tournament that Gonzaga starts a game as the favorite. That’s how much Vegas respects USC. Suggs, however, is a man USC cannot neutralize.
Evan Mobley leads Oregon State’s offense as USC advances to the quarterfinals.
Borzello: I think Gonzaga’s perimeter players will be key on Tuesday, so give me Kispert. USC has more size and length up front than Gonzaga, and the Trojans have the best two-point defense in the country. So the Bulldogs may be in more trouble than the usual paint. That means Mark Fuse’s team must use quick moves on the perimeter, push the ball in the conversion and beat USC on the field. If Kispert plays at the 4, he can keep one of the Mobley brothers, Evan or Isaiah, away from the basket or take over the perimeter in transition before they get back on defense. If USC goes to its own zone, Kispert’s shooting power should force the Trojans to spread out and open up the paint to Timme and the penetrating guards.
Lunardi: This is the night that Jalen Suggs makes a difference for Gonzaga. Since the beginning of the season, it has been said that his explosiveness and invaluable talent at the point guard position has taken the Jags to a higher level than any Mark Small team. The Bulldogs have long since dispensed with Saggy Supermen, and the rookie was happy to make room for the team’s former stars. He won’t have that luxury against USC, whose frontcourt could derail this match. But the Trojans are nothing like Suggs, and that will be the difference in sending Gonzaga to the Final Four.
UCLA already has a lot of history to its name and could achieve even more, having reached the Final Four as the 11th seeded player (that would be the lowest ever) (only the second time that has happened). TeamMick Cronin was impressive against Alabama – how surprised would you be if the Bruins beat Michigan?
Lunardi: That’s the end of the road for the Bruins, as the inevitable shutout came Monday night for No. 12 seeded Oregon State. The Beavers were overwhelmed by Houston’s stubborn defense and rebounding, and UCLA was nearly shut down by Michigan’s excellent balance. The Wolverines are as skilled offensively as they are defensively, both on the perimeter and inside, and have the experienced determination to overcome the loss of top scorer Isaiah Livers. In the biggest disparity of the Elite Eight round, Michigan Rolls.
Borzello: I would be very surprised. But I was surprised that UCLA beat Michigan State, as well as BYU and Alabama. (Not very Christian, but I was surprised at how easily the Bruins beat the Wildcats). Against UCLA, the tournament teams really struggled to shoot from the perimeter. None of the four opponents shot better than 33.3 percent from 3-point range. That’s partly due to UCLA’s defense, partly due to variety, but it should stay that way against Michigan. The Wolverines have not suffered a defeat since their loss against Livers, and their rebounding against the length and size of Florida State has been impressive. A lot will have to happen for Mick Cronin’s team to beat Michigan, but many things have already worked out well this month. But I choose Wolverine.
Jaime Jaquez hit two three-pointers to give UCLA a 77-70 lead over Alabama in overtime.
Medcalf: I would be very surprised. I just think Michigan, Baylor and Gonzaga are of a different class. Some of the things we thought about teams outside of those three making the NCAA tournament were wrong. But I don’t think the leading group in this event has changed at all. After Florida State’s loss against Michigan State on Sunday, coach Leonard Hamilton admitted he hadn’t found the right antidote for Juwan Howard’s team. That’s Leonard Hamilton with a good Seminoles team saying that.
I think the UCLA job is one of the most impressive performances of the season. And the Bruins deserve credit for the way they’ve played so far. Johnny Joosang and Tiger Campbell were the catalysts for some incredible offensive performances. But Michigan has five players who are either leading in scoring or leading in scoring in three NCAA Tournament games. Franz Wagner is not one of them. In addition, Isaiah Livers is injured. That couldn’t stop the Wolverines, who are a complete team that relies on its depth and Hunter Dickinson’s playmaking skills. If UCLA beats Michigan, I will be shocked.
Gasaway: UCLA has been lucky in some ways (read below), but the Bruins have been very lucky as well. They must pursue both of these tendencies if they are to defeat Wolverine. On the one hand, Mick Cronin’s team did what it had to do to score a very good 1.15 points per possession in the tournament. UCLA’s attrition rate is so low that it’s close to single digits. If you give the ball away in only 10.2% of your offensive actions, you score points. The Bruins were also helped by the fact that their tournament opponents shot just 24% from 3-point range. I’d be surprised if Tiger Campbell, Johnny Joosang and their teammates didn’t still have low turnovers. If Michigan is still 3 points behind, who knows, there could be another Alabama-like clash.
frequently asked questions
Will Gonzaga be in the last four?
For the second time in the last four NCAA tournaments, Gonzaga is headed to the Final Four. The No. 1-seeded Bulldogs improved to 30-0 Tuesday night, became the first undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1976, and are now just two wins away.
Is Michigan in the Final Four?
UCLA beat Michigan from first to last.
Is Baylor in the final four?
Baylor takes on No. 2-ranked Houston on Saturday in Indianapolis. … The Bears (26-2) return to the Final Four for the first time since 1950, while the Cougars (28-3) return to the final weekend of the college basketball tournament for the first time since 1984, when the Phi Slam Jam was held.
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