Gonzaga’s task won’t be easy, although they’ve made the regular season look easy this season. They finished the regular season 26-0 (15-0) on Tuesday with an impressive win over BYU, claiming the West Coast Conference Tournament Championship. Their next game will be as the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament against the weakest team on the bracket. They’re chasing an undefeated championship season.
Who are they chasing? Since 1939, only seven teams have gone undefeated throughout the regular season and the tournament:
YEAR TEAM RECORD
1955-1956 San Francisco 29-0
1956-1957 North Carolina 32-0
1963-1964 UCLA 30-0
1966-1967 UCLA 30-0
1971-1972 UCLA 30-0
1972-1973 UCLA 30-0
1975-1976 Indiana 32-0
Gonzaga has an explosive offense, with an average win margin of 23 points, and we already know they’ll face the easiest pathway to the NCAA Tournament Championship. But they are vulnerable and could face some tough matchups along the way. It’s going to take defense. I believe there are 3 teams with a good chance to take down Gonzaga.
Maybe the best opportunity for an upset of the ‘Zags in the tournament is another one seed, Baylor. I think they’re the second-best team in the ranks this season behind Gonzaga, and they match up well against the Bulldogs, although they’re also vulnerable themselves defensively against some lesser teams.
Next on our list of teams that can beat Gonzaga is the Alabama Crimson Tide. Their offense can hang with just about anyone in the country, including the ‘Zags. They hit an SEC-record 23 three-pointers against LSU this season and allowed the lowest shooting percentage in SEC play. Alabama is one of the few teams in the country that can accurately boast of an offense that can match Baylor or Gonzaga.
Their defense can cause problems for Gonzaga.
How about the Fighting Illini of Illinois? Yeah, they’re the other team I feel has a chance against Gonzaga. Also because of their defense, holding opponents to just 40.9% shooting this season while dominating Big 10 play. Their combination of offense, rebounding, and inside-outside balance make the Illini a legitimate threat in the NCAA Tournament.
Now to the aforementioned Baylor Bears. Baylor is clearly one of the best teams in college basketball. They have been ranked highly in every AP Top 25 poll since the preseason. If any team (including Gonzaga) is going to win the 2021 NCAA Tournament, they’ll likely have to go through the Bears. How can Baylor be beaten?
They can. It’s going to take a strong defensive team. Baylor is an elite offensive team and it’s hard to imagine another team outscoring Baylor, save for the ‘Zags. A good defense can eliminate the Bears’ advantages of length and athleticism they have over almost every other team. The team that can potentially bring down Baylor has to limit their scoring. That’s accomplished through defense and rebounding.
The possible spoiler for the Baylor Bears must also shoot well from beyond the arc. The three-pointer in college basketball is the great equalizer and has been instrumental in almost every single NCAA tournament upset. Baylor’s defensive style forces team away from the interior but gives them room on the outside, putting a premium on that team’s ability to shoot the ball from deep.
Fundamentals! The team that’s going to spoil the Bears’ chances has to limit turnovers and make free throws. Baylor will out-talent any team they play this season. Excelling at these two fundamental aspects of the game are critical in that situation. Especially for smaller schools facing the Bears in the tournament.
Can Gonzaga accomplish what only seven other teams since 1939 have? Can Baylor’s superior athleticism dominate the tournament? We’ll find out starting March 18 when the COVID-19 Edition of the NCAA Tournament begins. Hang on!