It’s been two years since the last Final Four game, so it’s only fitting that the two No. 1 seeds remaining at this juncture in the NCAA Tournament are teams that have dominated the sport for the past two seasons. In many ways, a national title for Baylor or Gonzaga would be a two-year title.
Baylor started last season 24-1 and spent five weeks ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll. Gonzaga, meanwhile, finished 31-2 last season and spent 14 straight weeks ranked in the top three of the AP Poll. Both have been waiting for this moment and deserve the chance to shine after the COVID-19 pandemic ripped way the NCAA Tournament last season.
But Houston and UCLA have each shown a remarkable bit of resilience to reach the Final Four, and neither are going to go down quietly. The Cougars lost AAC preseason Player of the Year Caleb Mills to transfer earlier this season, and the Bruins lost last year’s leading scorer Chris Smith after just eight games.
Both have persevered through the adversity to reach the sport’s pinnacle. Here are three storylines to watch as we get ready for the action.
Gonzaga’s history on the line
If Gonzaga can finish off its perfect season and become the first undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1976, it’ll touch off a likely endless debate about where the Bulldogs belong among college basketball’s all-time great teams.
Aside from the 1976 Hoosiers, UCLA went undefeated four times under John Wooden, and North Carolina and San Francisco each did it in the 1950s. Comparing teams from different eras is a challenge, though. But what about 21st century teams? At minimum, Gonzaga’s 31-2 season last year paired with a 32-0 record this year would easily constitute the greatest two-year run since Florida’s repeat titles in 2006 and 2007.
Can UCLA make it a game?
If there’s a flaw with Gonzaga, perhaps it’s that the Bulldogs have virtually no experience in close games. They have won all but one game by at least 10 points, and their closest victory was an 87-82 win over West Virginia on Dec. 2. Sure, the Zags had to claw back from a halftime deficit against BYU in the WCC Championship game, but they handled that task well enough to win by 10 points in the end.
UCLA, on the other hand, has played six overtime games this season and has a 4-2 record in those contests. The Bruins have been to overtime twice in this NCAA Tournament and are fresh off a thrilling 51-49 regulation victory over Michigan in the Elite Eight. If UCLA can somehow drag Gonzaga into the mud and create a close game, perhaps the Bruins would have an experience edge in a close finish.
The Baylor-Houston game may be the most-appetizing back court battle imaginable in college basketball this season. Houston’s deep well of gritty guards are a problem defensively, but Baylor counters with a similarly deep group of shooters and playmakers who will provide Houston with its toughest challenge of the season.
Baylor’s trio Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell deserve the title of best back court in the country, but the Cougars can dethrone them with a win.
2021 March Madness live stream
Date: Saturday, April 3 | Round: Final Four Live stream: March Madness Live
Time (ET)MatchupTV | Streaming5:14 p.m.(2) Houston vs. (1) BaylorCBS (watch live)8:34 p.m.(11) UCLA vs. (1) GonzagaCBS (watch live)