2021 NCAA men's tourney: Flying furiously into the Final Four


The Final Four of the 2021 NCAA men's tournament is upon us with Gonzaga, two games away from a perfect season, UCLA, Houston, and Baylor all chasing the title.

The perfectionist. An underdog. The loud one. An unassuming threat.

Thrown together in detention, they could very well be members of The Breakfast Club. In this instance, these are the four teams left standing in the settling dust from the first two weekends of the 2021 NCAA men's tournament

Like Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, and the rest of the rag-tag group that joined together, these four teams will gather on Saturday. Unlike the characters in the film, however, these four teams won't be joining forces. Instead, only one will remain cutting down the nets on Monday April 5.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are the perfectionist of the group, looking to become the first team since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers to win a national championship with a perfect record intact. The record is not simply a reflection of an easy schedule. This team is fluid and efficient on offense and in the tourney, has shown a propensity to get things done on defense as well.

As the underdog of the group, the UCLA Bruins have been dancing since the First Four. Beginning with an overtime victory over Michigan State, the Bruins have kept on rolling and, in the process, became only the sixth double-digit seed to reach the Final Four.

The Baylor Bears had been running neck-and-neck with Gonzaga most of the season, piling up wins and getting rowdy along the way. A brief pause due to COVID-19 disrupted the rhythm, with a loss to Kansas ruining their perfect season. Baylor would lose to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 conference tournament but has found their way once again the last four games.

Rounding out the field of four, the Houston Cougars have quietly pieced together an outstanding season. An experienced core has led this group and it's a battle tested one, too. A glance might indicate otherwise, with the Cougars reaching this point having only faced double-digit seeds. But don't let that fool you. Houston can grind it out and will rely on a tenacious defense to hopefully reach the pinnacle.

One of the best things about these four teams is that three of them will have a chance to win their first men's basketball championship. The fourth, UCLA, has 11 previous titles under their belts with an eye on picking up number 12.

Will it be the perfectionist or the underdog? The loud one or the unassuming? Whichever team climbs the podium, it will end with a shining moment etched in time. A fist will be raised in the air and memories made they'll likely never soon forget.

Baylor vs Houston

The battle for Texas gives us two teams who have been near the top of the rankings throughout the season and two teams have been away from the Final Four for a long while.

And it will be a trio of guards from each program that will help determine which teams graces the court in the championship game.

Winners of the South region, the Baylor Bears (26-2) will be appearing in their first Final Four since 1950. They have struggled to shoot the ball at times in the tournament, including a 3-19 performance from deep against Villanova in the Sweet 16. This hasn't seemed to matter a whole lot as the Bears are averaging 74.5 points per game. Baylor is holding opponents to 60.3 points per game in the tournament, with their closest game a nine-point victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Elite 8.

Baylor takes care of the ball, committing only 29 turnovers the last four games. The Bears are shooting 44.6 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three-point range.

Success or failure will likely be placed upon the shoulders of their three top guards and leading scorers. This trio has accounted for 55 percent of Baylor's scoring in the tournament, led by MaCio Teague. Teague is averaging 14.5 points per game, almost 1.5 points lower than his season average.

Teague, the team's second-leading scorer, has seen his scoring drop, as have his backcourt running mates. Jared Butler leads the team with 16.5 ppg but is down to an average of 13 in the last four games. He's shooting 34.6 percent (18-52) in that span but has also dished out 19 assists, placing him right at his season average.

Davion Mitchell has scored 54 points and dished out 19 assists in the tournament.

It is two key players off the bench who have picked up the scoring slack. Adam Flagler and Matthew Mayer combine to average 17.2 points, a number that has jumped to 20.5 in the tournament.

Emerging from the Midwest region, the Houston Cougars (26-3) have been away from the Final Four for a spell, too. Houston last made it this far in 1984, when the Cougars fell to Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas in the title game. 

In winning four tournament games, the Cougars did so by shooting above 40 percent from the field only once (47.5 percent against Cleveland State). Houston is hitting 38.8 percent of their field goals and only 31.4 percent from three-point territory.

Houston is averaging 69.8 points and holding opponents to 55.8 in the tourney.

It is ball control (37 turnovers) and a huge rebounding margin of plus 45 in the tournament that powers Houston. That, and a suffocating defense led by DeJon Jarreau.

Jarreau might be Houston's most important player. His defense is top notch and he does a bit of everything on offense. Jarreau suffered a hip injury against Cleveland State in the game's opening minutes but since then is averaging 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists per game.

Quentin Grimes is the team's leading scorer at 18 ppg, a number he has matched in the tournament. Marcus Sasser scores 13. 5 per contest, a number that has dropped to 12.5 in the tourney while shooting 16-57 from the field.

Justin Gorham averages 8.5 points and 8.7 rebounds on the season.

Both Baylor and Houston are fairly evenly matched. A drag-down, knockout affair is on the agenda and the outcome is going to come down to which team has the better day from three-point range. 

Gonzaga vs UCLA

Double-digit victories have been the norm for the Gonzaga Bulldogs (30-0) in the 2020-21 season. Only once has a final result been in a single-digit affair and their domination has continued in their tourney run, making just their second Final Four in program history.

Gonzaga is averaging 88.3 points per game and holding opponents to 64.3. The most points the Bulldogs allowed is 71 against Oklahoma in the round of 32.

Field goal percentage is slightly down for Gonzaga but they are still connecting on 53.5 percent from the floor. The Bulldogs are shooting 40.3 percent from three and have an average rebound margin of 15 in the tournament.

Gonzaga does have a slightly higher turnover margin in the tournament than the other three remaining teams, averaging 11.5 per game.

Trouble is, they are so efficient at running their half court offense and in the fast break, it's hard to put a dent in their armor. It also helps that the seven players who see the majority of court time all contribute.

It has been Drew Timme's tournament so far. Timme has been a force, averaging 21.3 ppg and 7.5 rebounds. Timme is excellent around the rim and has also dished out 17 assists.

Corey Kispert averages 18.9 points per game, but has fallen all the way down to 17.3 in the tournament. (Drastic, I know.) Kispert is 15-30 from beyond the arc, but did suffer a 3-10 performance against USC.

Jalen Suggs and Joel Ayayi are a formidable duo in the backcourt. Suggs is averaging 12.3 ppg in the tournament to go along with 22 rebounds and 19 assists. Ayayi is one of the best rebounding guards in the country and is pulling down nearly eight per game in the tourney to go along with just over 12 points per game.

Gonzaga has their star in Timme and the UCLA Bruins (22-9) are carried by a star of their own in Johnny Juzang.

In leading UCLA to their first Final Four appearance since the 2007-08 season, Juzang has been a driving factor in the team's success. He's averaging 21.6 points per contest in the Bruins five games, six points above his season average. 

Juzang is not propelling UCLA to victory all by his lonesome, with Jaime Jaquez Jr. delivering quite the tournament himself.  Jaquez is contributing 14.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, and nearly three assists per game on the offensive end. On defense, he's picked up eight steals and blocked five shots.

Jules Bernard, Tyger Campbell, and Cody Riley will also be players to keep an eye on. Bernard is averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds in the tournament. Campbell struggled with his shot early in the tournament but has come on as of late while Riley is steady inside with 40 points and 26 rebounds the last five games.

Twice UCLA needed overtime to advance and twice the Bruins have won games while holding opponents to under 50 points. The Bruins are averaging 73 points and allowing 63.2.

Much like Baylor and Houston, UCLA takes care of the ball, committing only 7.2 turnovers per contest. They are shooting 43.8 percent from the field (37.8 from beyond the arc) and have a minus seven rebound margin in the tournament.

Limiting Gonzaga's easy looks and fast break opportunities will be UCLA's main goal. But it may take Juzang and Jaquez each scoring in the mid-20's if the Bruins are to stand a chance at continuing their magical run.


I have exactly one team left in my bracket. I chose Gonzaga from day one of the tournament and will roll with them here. 
  • Houston over Baylor
  • Gonzaga over UCLA
  • Final: Gonzaga over Houston
photo credit: Wikimedia Commons