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Where to Watch: #1 Gonzaga vs. #11 UCLA - Saturday, 8:34 p.m. EST on CBS (@ Lucas Oil Stadium)
The Odds (DraftKings Sportsbook): Gonzaga -14.5; -1430 ML; O/U 145.5
Futures Market: Gonzaga -200 to win the national title
Long gone are the years of “plucky underdog” Gonzaga surprising people with their NCAA Tournament success. Mark Few has built a consistent juggernaut in Eastern Washington from the ground up and established himself as one of college basketball’s elite coaches. Unlike many successful mid-major coaches, though, Few has no intentions of leaving and has managed to turn Gonzaga into a new factory of NBA talent. In 2021, Mark Few’s squad is pretty certainly the best he’s ever had - and with four clear NBA prospects and excellent role players down the roster, it’s hard to imagine another college roster competing with the Zags in this tournament. Add in the strange disappearance of most college blue bloods - Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Michigan State all failed to make the second weekend of the tournament - and the Bulldogs have their best chance yet to finish off their first national championship.
Making the case for Gonzaga: If you found yourself at Lucas Oil Stadium this past Tuesday night, then you might've quickly tired of repeatedly hearing “Drew..TIMME!” through the stadium’s massive PA system as Gonzaga’s lead ballooned to double digits over USC. A Richardson, Texas native, Timme grew up in the same Dallas suburb that King of the Hill’s “Arlen, Texas” was based on, and he indeed looks almost as much like a King of the Hill character as he does a college basketball player. A projected late first round pick in the NBA draft, Timme swaggered up and down the floor gesturing excitedly to the crowd after each bucket, scoring with ease over USC’s Mobley brothers time and time again. Timme’s skillset is incredibly advanced for a college power forward. While he doesn't wield elite athleticism, he does boasts excellent instincts around the basket and always seems to find an easy look, no matter the opposing defense.
What makes Gonzaga even scarier is that Timme doesn’t even have to dominate the game as he did Tuesday night for Gonzaga to win, and win big. Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs both project to be drafted higher than Timme, and each can carry the team for stretches. Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard would be the best players almost anywhere else as well - but at Gonzaga, they’re just two more reliable cogs in far and away the most efficient offense in the nation. The Zags also want to run - they’re a team of skilled passers who look to get ahead of the defense in transition to create easy shots. Given their 61% effective shooting and 63.7% rate of converting two-point baskets via KenPom, it’s safe to say the plan is working, too. Their fifth-ranked defense provides them with plenty of opportunities to create highlights off turnovers and missed baskets on the other end. Gonzaga averages 92.1 points per game and hasn’t played a single-digit game all season except one - an 87-82 win over West Virginia on December 2.
Making the case against Gonzaga: Well, I guess they’re all 18-22 year-old kids, right? At this point, the path to a Gonzaga loss is extremely narrow, and it likely involves an exceptionally poor shooting night, uncharacteristic mistakes from some of college basketball’s best players, and an opponent shooting the lights out for 40 consecutive minutes. The best chance for a Gonzaga loss can only really be in a matchup with Baylor in the finals. The Bears do enough well that, should Gonzaga falter, they can in fact put a scare into the Bulldogs. Baylor is the best three-point shooting team in the nation and forces turnovers on an astounding 24.7% of opposing possessions. Should the Zags suddenly find themselves uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball, the Bears can close the gap in a hurry and make things interesting. But with so many weapons at their disposal, it’s hard to imagine that enough of Gonzaga’s roster can go cold at once.
Best Value Bet: Gonzaga First Half -8 AND Full Game -14.5 vs UCLA
Don’t make this one complicated here. The Bulldogs have covered this number every game in the NCAA Tournament so far, and in all likelihood they will wrap this national semifinal up by halftime as well. UCLA’s Johnny Juzang showed in the Elite Eight against Michigan that he doesn’t require much space to heat up his jumper from anywhere in the halfcourt, but he’ll need to go full James Harden to give the Bruins a chance to win. The Bruins don’t turn the ball over much, which certainly works in their favor against the transition-happy Zags. At 338th in KenPom’s pace rankings, however, UCLA’s not built for a track meet. They’ll need to find an extra gear and hope for the best. At the end, it was a nice run for the Bruins.