College Basketball

Everything you need to know about Gonzaga vs. Baylor, plus picks

April 5

Then there were two – and they are the two that have dominated all season long.

The NCAA Tournament field of 68 teams has been narrowed to a heavyweight national championship matchup between two 1-seeds: the Baylor Bears and the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

It took a miracle shot from Jalen Suggs to make it happen. 

The two teams were slated to play Dec. 5, but the game was canceled due to COVID-19 protocols.

Now, college basketball fans get the matchup they've been waiting for.

With this highly anticipated national championship set for Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, CBS), here is everything you need to know to get ready.

Winning pedigree

Monday will represent a powerhouse matchup between the two programs with the highest winning percentages since the start of the 2019-20 season.

Gonzaga is 62-2 (.969) the past two seasons. Baylor is 53-6 (.898).

These two programs faced each other in the 2019 NCAA Tournament round of 32, when Gonzaga was a 1-seed and Baylor was a 9-seed. Gonzaga won that game 83-71.

Corey Kispert is the lone remaining player from that Gonzaga squad. Baylor has Mark Vital, Jared Butler, Matthew Mayer and Flo Thamba as holdovers from that game.

This is the sixth matchup ever between these teams, and Gonzaga is a perfect 5-0 so far.

Second time's a charm

Both programs are chasing their first national championship — in their second trip to the final.

Gonzaga's first championship appearance came when the Zags fell to North Carolina in 2017.

The Bears' first was in 1948, when they lost to Kentucky.

What's at stake for Gonzaga?

History.

The Bulldogs are the first team to enter the national championship game undefeated since Indiana State in the 1978-79 season. That team was led by Larry Bird, but the Sycamores fell to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the title game.

The Bulldogs own a 35-game winning streak, which is good for 10th all time, and a national championship would make them the first team to go undefeated and win it all since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Indiana went undefeated and won the championship in the 1975-76 season, but the tournament was only 32 teams then.

Gonzaga would also be the first West Coast Conference team to win the national championship since Bill Russell's University of San Francisco team won consecutive titles in 1955 and '56. The conference was then known as the California Basketball Association.

What's at stake for Baylor?

A national championship win for Baylor would make the Bears just the second program from the state of Texas to win it all, joining 1966 Texas Western, which is now known as UTEP.

Baylor would be the first Big 12 program to win the national championship since the 2007-08 Kansas Jayhawks, with the conference currently in a 13-year title drought.

A victory would help the men's program add to the résumé of Baylor basketball as a whole. The Baylor women's basketball program has won three national championships, while the men are still seeking their first.

Super young superstars

This won't just be about super teams.

There are a few super players as well.

For the Zags, it's not all but mostly about freshman phenom Jalen Suggs and sophomore stud Drew Timme

Suggs stuck a dagger into UCLA's heart Saturday, but it was Timme who carried the Bulldogs in overtime, scoring the first six points of the extra period and finishing the night with 25 points. 

Through five tournament games, Timme is averaging 22.0 points to lead the Bulldogs. Right behind him is Suggs, who is putting up 13.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists for Gonzaga. 

For Baylor, it has been juniors Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell and senior MaCio Teague carrying the load.

Teague and Butler have each averaged 13.8 points per game in the tournament, and Mitchell – the 2020-21 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year – is at 13.2 points per game. 

What to make of Gonzaga – and that Suggs game-winner

Coming into Monday night, the focus will be on Gonzaga and if it can complete the dream season.

So far, it's been 31 games and 31 wins. 

But even if the Zags do win on Monday night, finishing the season as the undefeated national champions, will that assure them status in the annals of college basketball history among the greatest teams of all time?

Nick Wright isn't so sure, and said as much on "First Things First" on Monday morning.

"The reason I won't consider this one of the greatest teams ever is because flatly, it's not. The UNLV teams were better, the [Christian] Laettner Duke teams were better, Antoine [Walker's] Kentucky team, that had nine pros on it, was better. You can pick five separate UCLA teams that were better. I think the Anthony Davis Kentucky Wildcats team was better.

"And, by the way, I'm not convinced Gonzaga wins tonight."

Gonzaga got to tonight by surviving its closest contest of the year via that Suggs walk-off 3-point bank shot to beat UCLA, a shot that will certainly go down as one of the greatest shots in college hoops history, even if the Zags aren't remembered as a great team in the eyes of some. 

After the win over UCLA, Few said that he sees Suggs make that shot all the time at practice, so he wasn't shocked that the freshman pulled it off in a game, and neither was Shannon Sharpe. 

"People used to think these shots were luck. ... They practice these shots now. I'm not saying he tried to bank it in, but he shot a normal shot. We used to think the shots that Steph Curry and Damian Lillard were shooting were luck, and then we see them do it over and over and over again. ... He shot it like he would shoot a normal shot."

Skip Bayless didn't see it that way, calling Suggs' game-winner "five percent skill."

"I'll give you the five percent for being able to shoot the ball on the dead run and at least hit the backboard. It's 95 percent luck because he missed it a foot to the right and he missed it about a foot long. And you can't tell me he was aiming at the backboard from that angle."

Luck or skill aside, Gonzaga is in the title game, and Colin Cowherd discussed their miraculous ascension to the top of the college basketball pecking order on Monday. 

"Gonzaga has become a Goliath, and they used to be a David. And I can't think of another sports team – pro or college, men or women – that's ever happened. ... In the last six years, they have more wins in the tournament than anybody. ... This is not a mirage. This is the rare story where the Rays become the Yankees. They're not slowing down."

So, who did the rest of the FS1 morning crew pick to win tonight's national championship?

Check out their predictions below.

Shannon Sharpe: "You're a little small when you play three guards, unless you got three Magic Johnsons. The question is, what do they do with Timme. Thus far in the tournament, nobody's had an answer for him."

Skip Bayless: "If this were just one game that I had to bet on in a vacuum, I would not take Baylor in this game. Gonzaga is a little better than Baylor because they're better offensively. The way [the Zags] push the ball, the way they share the ball, the way they get up and down – it's electrifying to me. ... You can also argue these are the two best defensive teams in [college] basketball, but they can score like crazy. ... If my team [Baylor] is going to pull off the upset, I believe that Matthew Mayer will have to come in and make big shots. ... I'm gonna hang in with the Baylor Bears, and I will go 100-98."

Brandon Marshall: "My head says Baylor because that defense is sensational and those guards are so fast, but my heart says go with the Zags. I gotta go with those boys right now."

Nick Wright: "I like Baylor. Baylor's had the far more difficult road here, throughout the regular season and the tournament. During the tournament, they are yet to play a close game. They've beaten everyone by at least nine. They won their Final Four game by almost 20. You've got four pros on Gonzaga, you've got three pros on Baylor. I think Baylor wins."

Kevin Wildes: "I think the emotional letdown of that big shot comes back and haunts [Gonzaga]. I have Baylor winning by 10."

Also, we can forget the college hoops experts:


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