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NCAA Basketball National Championship Prediction 2021

Drew Timme, Gonzaga

The NCAA Tournament is a sporting event known for its chaotic nature, and the 2021 edition has not disappointed. UCLA made an improbable run from "First Four" to the Final Four, sending undefeated Gonzaga into overtime before a miraculous game-clinching three-pointer from Jalen Suggs. Oregon State went from a middle-of-the-pack Pac-12 team to a near Final Four squad, and Oral Roberts came agonizingly close to becoming the first 15-seed to ever play in the Elite Eight. However at the end of the day, the 2021 NCAA Tournament concludes with a bit of normality: the top two college basketball teams all season squaring off for the National Title. Gonzaga is looking to become the first team in over four decades to go an entire year without a loss, while Baylor is seeking their first National Title in program history. With two loaded lineups that can put up plenty of points, it should be an exciting National Championship Game.

Gonzaga got their toughest matchup of the entire season on Saturday, as 11th-seeded UCLA gave them all they could handle before the Suggs shot, which should live forever in March lore. Even though the Bulldogs were nearly upset, just about every strength of this team was on display. Suggs had an uneven performance before a huge block and the shot, showing just how clutch the true freshman is. Forward Drew Timme fought through foul trouble and was still the most consistent offensive player in the Final Four. Corey Kispert had a bad shooting day but still found ways to make an impact. Then there were Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard, considered "complementary pieces" who might've played a larger role in securing the 'Zaga win then anybody else. This lineup is loaded with experience and star power top to bottom. The trio of Nembhard, Ayayi and Suggs not only puts up plenty of points, they're incredibly efficient. They shoot the ball at an incredibly high percentage, and are some of the best passers I've ever seen at the collegiate level. I'd be shocked if Kispert's shooting struggles continued onto the National Championship, while Timme is the type of polished big with a feathery touch around the rim. I'm not sure if Gonzaga is as deep as Baylor, but they won't need to be if they can avoid early trouble. Either way, it's a group that has proven they will put up points no matter their opponent. That should be the case, even against a Baylor defense that is particularly tough.

The Baylor Bears may not have the big name stars that Gonzaga has, but the offense has proven it is just as explosive. Guards Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell are both SEC transfers (Butler enrolled at Alabama, Mitchell from Auburn) that have found a new home with Baylor, evolving into two of the best offensive players in the nation. Butler is the team's top scorer per game, while Mitchell is their top passer, coming off a Final Four game against Houston in which he tallied 11 assists. This pair will lead the way, but there is plenty of other Bears that should make an impact, including Adam Flagler, Matthew Mayer, MaCio Teague, and Mark Vital. There's a nice mix here of sharpshooters (Flagler, Teague), but also nice offensive versatility (Mayer, Vital). I'll be intrigued to see what offensive gameplan head coach Scott Drew leans on here; this is a free-flowing group that loves to shoot, but they do have a slight advantage in size down low. Do they look to pound it inside, and get Timme in foul trouble? There's a nice little chess match that should go on here between Drew and Gonzaga's Mark Few. We know both offenses can score, but will they go about it in different ways?

One of Gonzaga's strengths is transition, something that Drew has already addressed in the lead up to this game. The Bulldogs are exceptional at getting downhill and making the right decisions in transition, which gives them a bunch of easy buckets. I thought that UCLA would be able to keep up with this and somehow slow them down, but they were mostly unsuccessful. Now, the pressure is on the Bears to slow down the pace a bit and force Gonzaga into the halfcourt. The Bears did a fantastic job of doing this against Houston, and made them work for every shot attempt they got in the Final Four. Gonzaga is a much, much better offensive team than Houston, but that doesn't mean facing off against Baylor's defense is easy. It's a group that I've enjoyed watching all year long, because they move so well and communicate so effectively. They might not force a bunch of turnovers or record a bunch of blocks, but they're still an incredible defensive team. If they can make just enough stops, they might not even have to have their best offensive game the other way.

This is the most excited I've been for a National Championship Game in some time, and it may go down as one of the most anticipated of all time. On one side Gonzaga is not only looking to complete the undefeated season, but also prove that despite them playing in the weaker West Coast Conference, they are one of the sport's elite programs. Baylor is looking to not only play spoiler, but also put a bow on the historical rebuilding job Drew has done. I think these two are so evenly matched, you could theoretically flip a coin. I have gone back and forth on who I will end up picking, but I've long believed that Baylor is the one team that I think matches up favorably with Gonzaga. Not only do they have the offense to keep up with the Bulldogs, they are deeper and more experienced, with the perimeter shooting that can overwhelm teams. While I don't think we should read too much into either Final Four game, I think that Gonzaga's performance is fairly important. They showed incredible grit and resilience to come out with the win, but they also played 45 minutes of physical, tough basketball. Baylor will not only be fresher, they won't have the added pressure of an undefeated season hanging over them. Those two reasons are just enough to convince me to roll with the Baylor Bears, taking home their first National Title ever.

The Pick: Baylor by four

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