College

NCAA Final Four Big Game Previews

We are down to the nitty gritty in the NCAA Basketball Championships. Just four teams, the Final Four, remain in the tournament, taking part in two massive games to decide who will go forward to contest the final on Monday.

The first game on Saturday sees second seeds Houston taking on one of the two remaining bracket top seeds, Baylor Bears in the first semifinal. The winner of this game will go on to battle it out against the winner of Sunday’s big clash as underdogs UCLA take on the top-ranked team in the nation, Gonzaga.

Each of the teams has had contrasting routes into the Final Four and we have previewed each of the games below, as well as giving you our tips for each.

Let’s tip off that process right away by taking a look first at Saturday’s semifinal.

Saturday April 3rd

Houston (2) v Baylor (1)

Houston’s Road To The Final

  • First Four – Bye
  • First Round – v Cleveland State – W 87-56
  • Second Round – v Rutgers – W 63-60
  • Sweet 16 – v Syracuse – W 62-46
  • Elite Eight – v Oregon State – W 67-61

Houston Starting Five

  • 4 – Justin Gorham (F)
  • 32 – Reggie Chaney (F)
  • 3 – Dejon Jarreau (C)
  • 24 – Quentin Grimes (G)
  • 0 – Marcus Sasser (G)

Houston’s Strengths & Weaknesses

Houston’s defensive play has been the cornerstone of their success this season. They only managed to score over 68 points once in the tournament, in their opener against Cleveland State and despite being involved in close games, the Cougars have prevailed.

Quentin Grimes has been the star man in the team and along with Marcus Sasser he has been one of the driving forces behind Houston’s progress to the semifinal. However, it is fair to say that they have not met a team anywhere near as strong as Baylor.

Houston’s chances will likely depend on their defence keeping Baylor to a score somewhere around 65 points or lower. If they can do that, they may have a chance. If not, then they could well be in trouble.

Baylor’s Road To The Final

  • First Four – Bye
  • First Round – V Hartford – W 79-55
  • Second Round – V Wisconsin – W 76-63
  • Sweet 16 – V Villanova – W 62-51
  • Elite Eight – V Arkansas – W 81-72

Baylor’s Starting Five

  • 11 – Mark Vital (F)
  • 0 – Flo Thamba (F)
  • 31 – MaCio Teague (G)
  • 12 – Jared Butler (G)
  • 45 – Davion Mitchell (G)

Baylor’s Strengths & Weaknesses

Baylor Bears were undefeated for a good proportion of th e regular season, but two late season defeats ended that run and saw them drop to third in the national rankings. However, many always felt Baylor, alongside Gonzaga, where the picks in this tournament and thus far, the Bears have proven them right.

MaCio Teague has been a stellar performer for the team during the tournament ably supported by Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell. And all three will have to be at their best to take on the Cougars strong defense.

However, if they can play to their best, and they have managed it for the majority of the season then I can see the Bears scoring more than enough points to earn the win here and a shot at the national title.

Match Prediction And Tips

Houston 65-76 Baylor Bears

Houston have done superbly well to get this far in the tournament, but I think they will meet their match in the Bears who should record a solid win to move into the final.

Sunday April 4th

UCLA (11) v Gonzaga (1)

Gonzaga’s Road To The Final

  • First Four – Bye
  • First Round – v Norfolk State – W 98-55
  • Second Round – v Oklahoma – W 87-71
  • Sweet 16 – v Creighton – W 83-65
  • Elite Eight – v USC – W 85-66

Gonzaga’s Starting Five

  • 24 – Corey Kispert (F)
  • 2 – Drew Timme (F)
  • 3 – Andrew Nembhard (G)
  • 1 – Jalen Suggs (G)
  • 11 – Joel Ayayi (G)

Gonzaga’s Strengths & Weaknesses

Do Gonzaga have any weaknesses? The Zags have remained unbeaten throughout the regular season and have won all four of their games in the tournament comfortably. UCLA will be an uncomfortable memory for some Zags fans but they won’t have a better chance to gain revenge for that shock defeat in 2005.

Jalen Suggs has been their star man this season but in this tournament Drew Timme and Corey Kispert have been the more consistent players, although Suggs did put in a solid display in their Elite Eight win over USC.

This is an NBA-quality team that has class written all over it, which is why they have remained unbeaten this season so far. They should get a chance to win it all if they play to their undoubted potential in this game.

UCLA’s Road To The Final

  • First Four – v Michigan State – W 86-80 (OT)
  • First Round – v BYU – W 73-62
  • Second Round – v ACU – W 67-47
  • Sweet 16 – v Alabama – W 88-78 (OT)
  • Elite Eight – v Michigan – W 51-49

UCLA’s Starting Five

  • 2 – Cody Riley (F)
  • 1 – Jules Bernard (G)
  • 4 – Jaime Jaquez Jr (G)
  • 3 – Johnny Juzang (G)
  • 10 – Tyger Campbell (G)

UCLA’s Strengths & Weaknesses

From a team that scraped into the tournament as a competitor in the First Four, UCLA have gone from strength to strength in that event winning five games to reach the Final Four. They will have happy memories of a Final Four win over Gonzaga from the mid-2000s, when they last won the tournament.

There’s no doubt that Johnny Juzang has been their star man, with his performance in the Elite Eight round especially impressive. This is a solid team that are already battle hardened after coming through in overtime twice and having beaten a number 1 seeded team in Michigan.

However, they are the massive underdogs against the Zags and for all their defensive strength and the quality of coaching they have had in this tournament, it is hard to see them overcoming the best team in the country.

Match Prediction And Tips

Gonzaga 78 – 69 UCLA

This is where the UCLA dream will end I feel as I can see the Zags getting a degree of revenge for their loss to UCLA 15 years ago or so potentially setting up the Baylor v Gonzaga final that many people predicted from the start of March Madness.

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