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Baylor vs. Gonzaga and how they’ll defend each other

Here’s what one guy that’s watched most of the games of these teams this year thinks.

Corey Kispert of the Gonzaga Bulldogs dunks the ball against David Singleton #34 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half during the 2021 NCAA Final Four semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 03, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Just some random thoughts about the last game of a wild 2020-21 college basketball season, and a prediction as well. It’s No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 1 Gonzaga for all the marbles.

Baylor’s defense is better, but this isn’t a great matchup

Via KenPom adjusted efficiency, UCLA’s defense was 47th heading into their game with Gonzaga. Baylor? They’re 27th. But they are two completely different styles of defense, and how Baylor guards is much more exploitable by what Gonzaga does.

Baylor’s goal is to send all drivers towards the baseline, and with severe “no middle” rules in place, they’re able to bring plenty of length and help to keep teams out of the paint. It’s a version of what Chris Beard has made so successful at Texas Tech, and the Zags won’t have seen a team with this kind of rotation system and length so far.

But it’s also less likely to work against a Gonzaga team with five ball handlers and passers on the floor. If the help comes that hard, they’ll be able to get reversal and have the Bears out of system. Good collegiate offense turns a small advantage into a bigger advantage via ball movement, and that’s what should happen here. Plus there’s not really a team in the country that moves as well without the ball as the Zags, and that’s going to get the off-ball defenders either crashing into each other, or rotating to the same player and leaving someone else open.

UCLA basically packed it in against Gonzaga, forcing them to shoot more isolated shots out of rhythm, and contesting hard at the rim. But Baylor is more likely to pick up ball handlers a bit higher in the half court because that’s what they do. And that extra space will be all that the Zags need to have the ball moving faster than the man.

How will Gonzaga contest the threes

Gonzaga will switch all screens tonight and hedge hard on most ball screens as that’s what they’ve done all year, and when you have the eighth-best defense in college basketball you don’t want to change too much. That could leave opportunities for bigs to get baskets via the pass, but it will also give them the best chance to contest as many of the shots from Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Davion Mitchell as possible. And when you’re playing the best three-point team in America (41.2% for the Bears), force them to make those pinpoint passes to guys like Matthew Mayer. If he beats you, he beats you.

The question becomes is how well can Gonzaga rebound all the long misses. Baylor recovers 36.9% of their offensive misses (sixth in the NCAA), while the Zags generally corral 76.9% of boards when on defense. The rebounding of Bears misses is likely the turning point in this game. Can Gonzaga gang-rebound after long misses well enough to keep Baylor to just one shot per possession? Because if you give a team with Baylor’s efficiency two or more looks, you’re in trouble.

Prediction

I think the Zags do find a way to win as staying out of foul trouble will be difficult for the Baylor posts. But the betting lines are just about perfect.

You don’t have to bet on every game, and I think Zags -4.5 is so close to the right number. I’m not wagering on this or the point total of 159.5 either. If I had to pick one of the four options, I’d go over 159.5, but I certainly don’t love it.

If there was a bet I needed to make, it would be on Corey Kispert over 17.5 points. He should get a lot of looks on ball reversal and elevator or possibly even floppy actions by the Zags.