The Final Four matchups in the men’s NCAA Tournament are set.
No. 1 Baylor will take on No. 2 Houston (5:14 p.m. ET, CBS) and No. 1 Gonzaga will face UCLA (8:34 p.m. ET, CBS) in Indianapolis on Saturday.
The Bears (26-2) are back in the Final Four for the first time since 1950, while the Cougars (28-3) are returning to college basketball’s final weekend for the first time since 1984 during the Phi Slama Jama era. Baylor coach Scott Drew is in his first Final Four, while Houston coach Kelvin Sampson is returning on a redemptive path.
The Bulldogs (30-0) are chasing a perfect season and coach Mark Few is back in his second Final Four after coming up just short of a national title in 2017. The Bruins (22-9) are the outlier here as a No. 11 seed but they’ve proved their worth by slaying No. 1 seed Michigan and No. 2 seed Alabama to get here. Coach Mick Cronin has taken UCLA from First Four to Final Four.
USA TODAY Sports examines the matchups:
Baylor vs. Houston
► How Baylor has the edge. The Bears have college basketball’s most potent backcourt behind Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell – averaging a combined 46.4 points. The trio blends well. They help Baylor lead the nation in three-point shooting field goal percentage (41%). Butler is a first-team All-American who hasn’t played his best basketball in this NCAA Tournament, but he has takeover abilities as the program’s go-to scorer the past two seasons.
► How Houston has the edge: The Cougars are arguably the best defense remaining, leading the nation in field goal percentage defense. They’ve contained opponents in this tournament to an average of 55.7 points. Sampson’s teams at Oklahoma had this same type of out-tough-the-opponent DNA, so expect Houston to make it difficult for Baylor’s guards to get going from deep when it’s smothering them on the perimeter. The Cougars do the little things if they’re not connecting from three-point range to keep the momentum in their favor, including offensive rebounding for second-chance points.
► Key player for the Bears: Mitchell. Even though Teague can carve through defenses and Butler can score in a variety of ways, it’s Mitchell who is the central part of the three-headed backcourt attack. Mitchell is Baylor’s backbone, playing with an aggressiveness and tenacity that is contagious.
► Key player for the Cougars: DeJon Jarreau. The American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year has been one of the best stoppers in this tournament, playing a big part in Houston limiting Syracuse’s Buddy Boeheim in the Sweet 16 and Oregon State’s Ethan Thompson in the Elite Eight. The 6-5 senior guard will shadow the best player; it will depend on which of Baylor’s three guards is hot at the time.
Which team reaches the title game? Baylor, 73-62. Not many teams score more than 60 points on Houston, but the Bears have the offensive firepower to do it. Baylor’s guards operate great in a halfcourt set, just as well as in transition. Houston is used to slowing teams with a tempo-controlling defense, but the Bears are used to that from great competition in Big 12 play. Baylor has faced 12 top-30 NET-ranked teams since January, compared to Houston’s two.
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Davion Mitchell (45) and Mark Vital celebrate during Baylor’s Elite Eight win over Arkansas.
Gonzaga vs. UCLA
► How Gonzaga has the edge: The Bulldogs offense is the most efficient in the country, ranking first in KenPom and averaging a nation-best 92 points and 55% shooting. Few has three offensive weapons that make for a dynamic attack behind big man Drew Timme (averaging 25 points in the last three games), Corey Kispert (46% three-point shooting on the season) and Jalen Suggs (13.9 ppg, 4.4 apg). He also has plenty of role players including junior guards Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard.
► How UCLA has the edge: The Bruins play with a signature brand of toughness that Cronin instills and it leads to a slower paced, defensive-oriented game vs. opponents with potent offenses. If UCLA can use this to its advantage and change the tempo of the game, it has a fighting chance to end Gonzaga’s perfect chance. The Bruins can frustrate a free-flowing offense by doing little things like taking charges and playing with a bruising style. Johnny Juzang (28 points in the win over Michigan) will be the main catalyst.
► Key player for the Bulldogs: Jalen Suggs. While Timme has been the Zags best player in this tournament and Kispert is the team’s first-team All-American, it’s the crafty freshman point guard who can be the difference between net-cutting or a near-perfect season. Suggs, a projected NBA lottery pick and the highest recruited player under Few, is coming into his own at just the right time. He nearly had a triple double vs. Southern California, finishing with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
► Key player for the Bruins: Jaime Jaquez Jr. (12.4 ppg) is the team’s backbone with hustle plays. His 27 points bailed UCLA out against Michigan State in the First Four and he had 17 points and eight rebounds in a win over Alabama in the Sweet 16. A Cincinnati recruit who followed Cronin to play for the Bruins, Jaquez can change the game on both ends.
► Which team reaches the title game? Gonzaga, 69-64. The top overall seed really hasn’t been rattled much in this tournament or all season for that matter. How the Zags counter-punch will be interesting, if UCLA can slow the tempo to a more grind-it-out pace as it did vs. Michigan. While the Zags have been getting a ton of love for a dominant offense, their defense is what put the game vs. USC so far out of reach. This isn’t anything new, as this team ranks fourth in KenPom defensive efficiency. If Gonzaga can have two of its three stars scoring and can feed off its perimeter defense, then this team is virtually unbeatable.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Final Four men’s preview: Breaking down Baylor-Houston, Gonzaga-UCLA