|-5 BAY (-104) @ pinnacle|
My CBB 10* Game of the Year is on Baylor at 5:14 ET.
Houston ended Oregon St's tourney run in the Elite 8, winning 67-61. The win over the Beavers gives Houston a 6-0 all-time record in the Elite Eight, the most wins without a loss by any program since the round began in 1951. However, NONE of the previous five Houston Final Four teams emerged with a national title. If Houston's luck were to change in 2021, the Cougars would become just the THIRD non-power 5 conference school to win the title since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 (Louisville won a national title in 1986 playing out of the Metro Conference and UNLV won its lone national title in 1990 playing out of the Big West). Kelvin Sampson's Cougars won 27 games in 2018, 33 in 2019 and 23 in last year's pandemic-shortened season. His current team is 28-3 and has held its four NCAA opponents to just 55.8 PPG but in Baylor, Houston faces a team that averaged 85.3 PPG during the regular season (3rd) and led the nation in three-point accuracy at 42.9 percent.
Scott Drew took over a devastated Baylor program in the 2003-04 season and since 2007-08, has turned the Bears into one of the best programs in the country. Baylor won the NIT in 2013 and had made eight NCAA tourney appearances (26-4 last season would have made nine) entering this season. Baylor won its first-ever Big 12 regular-season title this season, the first league championship since the Bears won the SWC regular season in 1950. This is Drew's ninth NCAA appearance with the Bears and Baylor reached the Sweet 16 for the FIFTH time in the last 12 years. The Elite 8 appearance was his third with Baylor and now it's his first Final Four appearance. Baylor opened the season No. 1 behind Baylor but COVID-19 nearly derailed Baylor's dream season, with the Bears being forced to pause for three weeks in February. A 17-0 record before the pause was quickly tarnished with a 13-point loss at Kansas in their second game back. Baylor then lost again in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament, but here the Bears are in the Final Four for just the THIRD time in school history (1948 and 1950).
Houston enters Saturday's contest having won 11 consecutive games and last qualified for the Final Four in 1984 when it completed its third consecutive trip on the back of the famed "Phi Slama Jama" collection of superstar talent. The program fell into disrepair over the subsequent two decades but Kelvin Sampson has changed all that (see above). Junior guard Quentin Grimes (18.0 & 5.8) is the American Athletic Conference Co-Player of the Year and leads an offense that isn't prolific but is efficient. Sophomore guard Marcus Sasser averages 13.5 PPG plus senior guard DeJon Jarreau (10.8-5.5-4.4) is a terrific defender, who put the clamps on Buddy Boeheim (Syracuse) and Ethan Thompson.(Oregon St) in Houston's last two wins. 6-7 senior forward Justin Gorham (8.5 & 8.7) has a team-high eight double-doubles and averaged 9.5 & 10.0 against Syracuse and Oregon St.
Baylor's strength is also the team's trio of guards, Jared Butler (16.5-3.3-4.8), MaCio Teague (15.9 & 4.1) and Davion Mitchell (14.1 & 5.3 APG). Jay Bilas called Mitchell is Baylor's most indispensable player. The 6-5 Vital (5.7 & 6.7) is also one of the nation's best defenders and has scored 10 points and added 13 rebounds in Baylor's Sweet 16 and Elite 8 wins. Flager (9.0) averaged 13.0 PPG in Baylor's last two tourney wins, while fellow guard Mayer (8.2) averaged 12.5 PPG in the team's first two wins.
Let me go back to when I noted that Houston has held its four NCAA tourney opponents to just 55.7 PPG. Houston earned a No. 2 seed, so the Cougars opened against a No. 15 seed in Cleveland St. However, Houston then benefitted by drawing a 10-seed in Rutgers, an 11-seed in Syracuse and a 12-seed in Oregon St. NO team has ever had an easier route to a Final 4 since the advent of the 64-team field. Not counting the game vs Cleveland St, the Houston offense has managed just 63, 62 and 67 points in beating Rutgers, Syracuse and Oregon State. Baylor plays defense as well or better than that trio plus Baylor has faced 12 top-30 NET-ranked teams since January, compared to Houston's two. Since the opening of the season, it's been Gonzaga No. 1 and Baylor No. 2 in all but one AP weekly poll (Mar 1) and my bet says Baylor holds up its end for an anticipated championship game against the Bulldogs. Bears win by double digits.