No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 1 Baylor.
Both teams were supposed to play here in Indianapolis on Dec. 5 but the game was called off at the last minute due to a COVID-19 positive test. Perhaps it was fate because now we get these two teams squaring off at their best – with no previous barometer for how it will go.
A look at the keys to victory for each team (Monday, 9:20 p.m. ET, CBS).
How Gonzaga can cut down the nets: The Bulldogs (31-0) have winning momentum following the adrenaline of Jalen Suggs’ halfcourt banked-in three-pointer that helped them survive UCLA. But it will take the ‘Zags’ big three – Suggs, Corey Kispert and Drew Timme – to all perform at an elite level for this game to go their way. All-American Kispert (2-for-8 from three vs. UCLA) will have to shoot better against Baylor to counter the Bears’ perimeter attack.
The ultimate key will be for big man Timme to get going early and for the rest of the ‘Zags to use the energy from his dunks or big shots. Timme can be the difference because Baylor doesn’t have anyone who can stop the 6-10 crafty big man, who’s a phenomenal passer once teams start to double team or become undisciplined on defense. Gonzaga’s sidekicks Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard came up big against UCLA on offense, but their defense will be most pivotal against Baylor’s guards.
How Baylor can cut down the nets: The Bears (27-2) looked like a good basketball team in its first three NCAA Tournament wins. They looked like a great team in their 78-59 demolition of Houston. When Baylor is connecting on its three-pointers, there’s not a defense that can get in the way. Coach Scott Drew has a team with multiple exceptional guards, starting with All-American Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell. But it’s the supporting cast – MaCio Teague, Adam Flagler and Matthew Mayer – that make this a dynamic offense. All of Baylor’s guards can penetrate to keep defenses honest, so preparing for this team’s perimeter game is harder than it looks. They’ll make teams pay in the paint just as easy as they will from beyond the arc.
Key player for the Bulldogs: Suggs. The buzzer-beater took all the glory, but it was Suggs’ play late in the game that was equally a driving force for Gonzaga surviving UCLA. With about two minutes to go in regulation, the do-everything point guard showed his NBA-ready versatility in one thrilling sequence. He blocked Bruins big man Cody Riley and immediately after threw a nearly length-of-the-court bounce pass to Timme for a dunk. Suggs’ athleticism and court vision were on full display. It’s plays like that, along with his outside shooting, that can help the ‘Zags finish undefeated. The freshman has taken huge strides throughout 2020-21 and is coming into his own – at exactly the best time.