Final Four: Barrera's Breakdown
Photo Cred: cbssports.com
The college basketball season is in its last weekend, with the Final Four on Saturday, and the Title game on Monday. A lot to discuss here, so let’s get right to It.
Baylor v Houston
There are two narratives that are being hammered home this week. First, Houston beat double-digit seeded teams in each of their tournament wins. Second, the Cougars have only played one team in the top 30 KenPom rankings this season (Texas Tech). Additionally, they have only played 2 teams in the top 50 KenPom rankings (Texas Tech and the NIT Champ Memphis Tigers). Coach Sampson’s squad, although a solid group, has not faced a team quite like Baylor before.
Breaking down both sides of the ball, let’s start with Baylor. The Bears have been a great shooting team all season, and are first in the nation from 3 (41.1%). Davion Mitchell has played well this March, and showed his dominance against Arkansas. From a defensive standpoint, the Bears are excellent at forcing turnovers. Although Baylor is not the strongest team on the defensive glass, Coach Drew’s athletes are tough matchups for any roster.
On to Houston. As I mentioned above, the Cougar’s schedule may have inflated their ranking. That said, they’re not frauds either. Quentin Grimes had a nice game vs the Beavers and shot 40% from deep. Dejeon Jarreau was the AAC Defensive Player of the Year, and he did a solid job limiting Ethan Thompson to 11 points. When looking at statistics, Houston’s backcourt takes care of the basketball, which of course will be their strength vs Baylor’s defense. What troubles me though is how the Cougars stop Baylor. Jarreau is only one player, and even if he’s guarding Davion, the rest of the offense is lethal. Houston also allows 21 FTA per game, so I’m sure Coach Drew is telling his players to attack the lane at will.
The spread is sitting at -5, so I want to touch on the Gambling numbers too. The Bears have had a nice run in the tournament, as well as vs non-conference (75% ATS for both categories). They’re also strong off 4+ days of rest with a 7-2 record ATS. Finally, Baylor is 64.3% as the favorite.
Houston also does well with time off, as they’re 72.7% ATS on 4+ days rest. Despite being 1-0 as the underdog, the other numbers for Houston aren’t exactly appealing. The Cougars are only 6-4 against non-conference opponents, and 2-2 during the NCAA Tournament.
The betting numbers suggest that the Big 12 Bears are ready to take care of business. Additionally, I think Cougars struggle on both sides of the ball. They will have to pick their poison with Baylor’s elite offense. Houston will also need to shoot well, despite being 205th in the country in shooting %. I’m taking Baylor (my National Champion pick), and I’m hitting It at -5.
Gonzaga v UCLA
Sorry Bruins fans, your luck has come to an end. Many people, including myself, believed that USC would have kept the game close with the Bulldogs. Then the Trojans kept coughing up the ball, and Gonzaga never let their foot off the pedal. I had the Zags losing to Baylor in the Title game, but I’m starting to buy in on how historically great Gonzaga is.
Regardless, let’s dive into this matchup. Gonzaga has NBA talent and are well coached. I know Suggs gets a lot of attention, but Drew Timme is absolutely incredible. He made Evan Mobley look silly all night, and his array of post moves will give the Bruin front court nightmares. I could sit here and tell you why Gonzaga is dominant, but we really need to dissect whether UCLA can even keep up.
The Bruins have been extremely fortunate. Yes, Mick Cronin has done an excellent job. This team has battled through injuries and adversity, and now they find themselves only 2 wins away from a championship. The problem is...their route to get here has been hard to explain.
First, Michigan State had an 11 point lead entering the second half, and had a 5 point lead with 90 seconds to go. Bruins won in OT.
Next, the shooting numbers from UCLA’s opponents are as follows:
BYU: 3pt%-17.6. FT%-56.3
ACU: FG%-29.8 3pt%-21.1
Bama: 3pt%-25 FT%-44
Michigan: FG%-39.2 3p%-27.3 FT%-54.5%
Those are terrible numbers, and it’s amazing to believe that the FT% in particular was so poor. Gonzaga is simply not going to shoot below average, I would be shocked.
The next issue for UCLA is their inability to start off strong. The Bruins had 13 points at the 10 minute mark in their game vs Alabama. If that wasn’t bad enough, UCLA only had 9 points after 12 minutes in the first half vs Michigan. Gonzaga scores 91 points per game, UCLA absolutely cannot afford a slow start. The Bulldogs are just that good.
The Bruins have done well from a gambling standpoint ATS. They’re 5-0 in the tournament, 9-2 vs non-conference, 3-1 against ranked teams, 6-2 at a neutral site, and 6-3 as the dog. This is making the +14 point spread extremely appealing. The Bruins slow starts gives me reasonable concern that Gonzaga blows them out, and I would even take a flier on a first half cover for the Bulldogs. I took it at 7.5 (-144).
I hope that we are fortunate enough to see Baylor vs Gonzaga in the final. They are both extremely talented, and It feels like one of those games that will be an instant classic.
Thank you for following me this year. I am already preparing my research for next season, so please stay tuned!
- Mike Barrera (mbarrera1323 on Twitter)