The 68 teams that entered March Madness with hopes of cutting down the nets in Indianapolis have now been whittled down to the illustrious Final Four. While the 2021 NCAA Tournament was headlined early on by the monumental upsets, you wouldn’t know it by seeing two No. 1 seeds, Baylor and Gonzaga, along with a No. 2 seed, Houston, still alive heading into the final weekend.
Then again, No. 11-seeded UCLA is joining those teams in the final weekend, so chaos isn’t completely dead just yet.
Every team had a unique Elite Eight moment to get to this point too, which only adds to the intrigue of the Final Four. Houston dominated Oregon State early but then had to stave off a comeback. Baylor had a similar time against Arkansas, though the Bears pulled away at the end. Meanwhile, Gonzaga dominated from start-to-finish against USC. Then Michigan and UCLA delivered a back-and-forth classic ultimately won by the underdog Bruins.
Now that we’ve reached this point in March Madness, though, anything can happen. Two more wins and a team is going to be cutting down the nets as their crowned National Champions. And just to be in this spot, every team has a case as to why they can win a title.
But let’s look at those cases as we go team-by-team through the Final Four and break down why each group has a chance to win the last game of the season, hoist the trophy and cut down the nets.
Why each Final Four team can cut down the nets and win it all
Why the Houston Cougars can win the NCAA Tournament
Houston entered March Madness as a somehow underrated 24-3 team but, outside of a scare against Rutgers in the Round of 32, Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars have been rolling. Of course, they’re also the first team in NCAA Tournament history to make the Final Four having played only double-digit seeds thanks to the carnage in the Midwest Region.
That shouldn’t diminish your opinion of the Cougars, though, as their ability to make noise on both ends of the floor is impressive. Though they lack an elite 3-point offense, Quentin Grimes and Marcus Sasser are both clutch scorers. But it’s their defensive prowess that will be critical to their title hopes.
For the year, Houston has held opponents to under 30 percent shooting from long range, one of the best marks in the country. Their combination of versatile length and athleticism throughout the roster makes them exceptionally difficult to get open looks against and forces teams to play their brand of basketball. If they can do that twice more, they’ll be cutting down the nets.
Why the Baylor Bears can win the NCAA Tournament
When Baylor first began making waves this season, their defense was undoubtedly their calling card. And to be sure, this is a team that is still capable of locking opponents down. However, their defense has taken a step back from an efficiency standpoint late in the year and in the NCAA Tournament.
Still, the Bears’ ability to force turnovers aids them in relying on one of the most dangerous offenses in the country. Not only are Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell NBA-caliber guards who can fill it up from all over the floor but Scott Drew’s team has a litany of role players capable of popping up when called upon. Just look at Macio Teague and his 22-point outburst in the win over Arkansas in the Elite Eight.
This team is one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country with virtually everyone who plays meaningful minutes capable of knocking down shots from deep. If they’re going to win it all, they’ll need to hold serve in that regard while continuing to force turnovers, even if they aren’t a stalwart defensive club.
Why the Gonzaga Bulldogs can win the NCAA Tournament
It’s one thing for Gonzaga to beat up on the competition in the WCC — they’ve been doing that for over a decade now. What makes this iteration of Mark Few’s Bulldogs so special, though, is that they’ve beaten up on literally everyone. They enter the Final Four at a perfect 30-0 clip, which is impressive enough, but they’ve also won all but one game by double-digits, including blowout wins over Creighton and USC in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, respectively.
Gonzaga’s success begins on offense where they are absolutely loaded with playmakers that allow them to punish opposing defenses in a variety of ways. Star freshman Jalen Suggs can attack on all levels as a scorer and facilitator, Drew Timme is a dominant force inside, and Corey Kispert is another versatile playmaker with a sweet stroke from 3-point range. And that’s before you even mention the likes of Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard, who are both perfect complements.
This offense has been historically good and, if the Zags are going to be the first undefeated champs since 1976, that will be the reason why it happens. But if that wasn’t enough, the Bulldogs are also a top-five team defensively according to KenPom, so good luck even trying to keep up with that offense as well.
Why the UCLA Bruins can win the NCAA Tournament
After barely making it into the NCAA Tournament field, Mick Cronin has pulled off what only the 2011 VCU Rams had done previously, going from the First Four to the Final Four. It’s strange to think of the Bruins, one of the historical blue bloods of college basketball, as an underdog. Yet, that’s the apt description of this team. They have been without Chris Smith, arguably their best player, all year and still made it to this point.
And part of the reason they’ve kept advancing is the resiliency instilled in this team under Cronin. Not only did they have to win five games to get to this point, but UCLA had to win two overtime games and go down to the final shot against Michigan. There are intangible elements to big games in basketball and the Bruins clearly check all of those boxes.
Beyond that, though, Johnny Juzang’s scoring ability in addition to Tyger Campbell’s leadership and two-way playmaking while guys like Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Jules Bernard can step up will all play a role in their title chances.
All told, though, this is a team that’s going to fight tooth and nail on both ends of the floor for 40 minutes every time they take the floor. It may sound cliché but that’s the type of mentality that could continue their historic tournament run.
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