UCLA’s presence is the only real surprise in a Final Four that also includes two No. 1 seeds (Gonzaga and Baylor) and a No. 2 seed (Houston). And even if this is a down year for the Bruins, it is hard to consider a program that has won more NCAA men’s basketball championships (11) than any other university an underdog by any stretch.
UCLA is matched up with No. 1 overall seed and undefeated Gonzaga in one Final Four matchup while No. 1 seed Baylor takes on No. 2 seed Houston in the other. Baylor and Houston play at 5:14 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS on April 3. Gonzaga and UCAL play at 8:34 p.m. on CBS. The winners will play each other on CBS at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on April 5. All games will be played in Indianapolis.
Here is a look at what to expect in both matchups.
Gonzaga vs. UCLA
UCLA’s path to the Final Four was bookended by similar games – they advanced in the play-in game with a late comeback and rally to beat Michigan State in overtime, then advanced out of the Elite Eight with a late comeback and rally to beat Michigan.
The Bruins aren’t a typical No. 11 seed – they have significant talent that just hasn’t always played well together in the regular season. Leading scorer Johnny Juzang has upped his game in the tournament. He averaged 15.5 points per game in the regular season, but he’s scoring nearly 22 per game in five tournament games.
UCLA Bruins guard Johnny Juzang (3) looks to move the ball past Michigan Wolverines guard Chaundee Brown (15) and Michigan Wolverines guard Franz Wagner (21) during the Elite Eight round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. Ncaa Basketball Ncaa Tournament Michigan Vs Ucla
Jaime Jaquez is arguably the reason the Bruins even made it out of the play-in game. After trailing Michigan State for much of that game, Jaquez proved to be unguardable, particularly in the second half, and had a career-best performance with 27 points. He’s cooled off a bit since then, including scoring just four points against Michigan. UCLA will need him at his scoring best to have a chance against a Gonzaga offense that is one of the most unguardable in the country.
Gonzaga has four NBA prospects in its starting lineup. The team hasn’t lost all year, and they’ve rarely been in a competitive game. That trend has continued in the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga has won each game by impressive margins and they’ve scored at least 83 points in each game.
One matchup to watch in the game will be at the point guard spot. Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs is one of the best players in the country and is projected to be a top five pick in the NBA Draft. UCLA sophomore Tyger Campbell is much more inconsistent, but he played a big role in the team’s wins over Alabama and Michigan. If he can be a factor offensively, UCLA will have a chance.
Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Jalen Suggs (1) goes up for a shot over USC Trojans forward Max Agbonkpolo (23) during the Elite Eight round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. Mandatory Credit: Jenna Watson/IndyStar via USA TODAY Sports
If the game is close, that could also play in UCLA’s favor – they’re used to playing under pressure so far in the tournament. Their wins over Michigan State and Alabama were both in overtime and the Michigan game was close the entire way until UCLA took the lead late.
UCLA has the toughest odds to win the national title at 25-1, but they’ve also been tested more than any of the other teams in the Final Four.
Houston vs. Baylor
For the first time in history, two Texas teams will face each other in a Final Four as No. 1 seed Baylor takes on No. 2 seed Houston.
Mar 29, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Baylor Bears forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (23) celebrates with guard Adam Flagler (10) and guard Matthew Mayer (24) during the second half against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Elite Eight of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium. Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Houston has not been to a Final Four since 1984, when Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were around leading the Phi Slama Jama era.
For Baylor, the wait to return to a Final Four has been even longer – they last played this deep in a NCAA Tournament 71 years ago.
Baylor has seemed to be on a path all season to play Gonzaga, as they’ve been ranked No. 1 and 2 in the country for several weeks. They are 26-2 on the season. Like Gonzaga, they’ve rarely played in close games in their wins. Their offense is good, they defend well, and they have three guards in Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Javion Butler who are all capable of being primary scorers. We were deprived of an early-season matchup between the teams that was canceled due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Houston is a team that, quietly, could disrupt that collision course though. Quentin Grimes is averaging nearly 20 points per game in the tournament, and the Cougars should be able to keep pace with Baylor offensively.
Houston has had an easy path to this matchup, though – every tournament game they’ve played so far has been against a team seeded No. 10 or lower. Houston also played only one ranked opponent during the regular season, so the matchup with Baylor will be by far their toughest of the season.
Baylor has 15-4 odds of winning the national title and Houston has 6-1 odds.
As fun as upsets are, Gonzaga and Baylor are locked in right now. They’ll face each other in the championship game and Gonzaga will finally get its national championship.