Could possibly top anything The? The Gonzaga Bulldogs’ thrilling 93-90 win over the UCLA Bruins in Saturday’s Final Four, already dubbed one of the best games in March Madness history, set a new standard for what we think of our NCAA Expect tournament games. But Monday night’s national championship game between the Zags and the Baylor Bears (9:20 p.m. ET, CBS) has, as we say, similar potential for lasting memories. The Bulldogs and Bears have been the best and most consistent team pair in college basketball since the start of the 2019 season and have lost a total of eight times during that time. You will win the NCAA Championship for the first time when all is said and done at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Ahead of Monday’s title game, ESPN.com’s college basketball team, Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway and Joe Lunardi, offered their point predictions for the championship game, an analysis of the Hall of Fame credentials of the two head coaches and most likely players most outstanding players are taken home from a sensational tournament.
We’ve talked about the player matchups we’re looking forward to the most, but let’s look at the coaching matchup. Where would you rate Mark Few versus Scott Drew in the minor bosses all-time matchups? Are these guys both Hall of Fame castles, even without national titles?
Medcalf: This is a great coaching matchup between two guys who had to get to work to get to this point. I think they are both Hall of Famers. Hard to say they are locks. Eddie Sutton was rejected six times before finally being inducted into the Hall of Fame. There have been previous problems affecting his mission, but not having a national title made the persecution difficult. Still, I think the Eddie Sutton guys deserve the inclusion. Both Few and Drew are on this list if they don’t win a championship.
Drew inherited one of the worst situations in college basketball history. It’s been almost 19 years Carlton Dotson was arrested for killing Patrick Dennehy. Dave Bliss left a mountain of problems: Drew was unable to play non-conference games in his third year at Baylor due to Bliss-era sanctions. But Drew built a powerhouse from the ground up in Waco, Texas. And few have made Spokane, Washington, a hub for some of America’s top talent. Whether they get a title or not, I think they will get into the Hall of Fame. Both have many years in coaching, so the numbers will continue to grow. And it’s just not fair to judge every coach, player, and staff member based on the events of a crapshoot known as the NCAA tournament. I think they’ll be recognized in the Hall of Fame, but there are never guarantees without a national title.
Borzello: I think they should both be Hall of Famers because of the uniquely great work they have done in their respective schools. Few have made Gonzaga – GONZAGA – a national powerhouse and one of the best programs in college basketball. Any number of medium sized programs have tried to replicate what the Zags did to become the “next Gonzaga,” but no one has come close and no one will. Gonzaga is legitimate “new blood” to steal a Florida State phrase. Since Few 1999 took over: 21 NCAA tournament appearances, 10 Sweet 16s, four Elite Eights, two Final Fours, two title game appearances. It’s unprecedented.
Drew spearheaded one of the greatest rebuilding efforts in college sports history. He took a program that was mired in scandal and disorder down to seven scholars and banned playing non-conference games, as Myron mentioned – for the first 1-seed in program history and the national championship game. After missing the NCAA tournament in his first four years, Drew led the Bears to nine of the last 13 NCAA tournaments, including five Sweet 16 appearances, three Elite Eights, and a Final Four. A title would seal his candidacy.
Gonzaga’s coach Mark Few talks about his team’s progress to the Final Four and the close ties of the entire squad.
Gasaway: This is the all-time matchup of the ultimate programmer. The plight Baylor was in when Drew started his job in 2003 is well documented. Now he’s at the head of a program that would almost certainly carry the second number 1 in a row if there had been an NCAA tournament in 2020.
Few’s narrative is a little different, but no less impressive. The Bulldogs were already on the rise under former coach Dan Fitzgerald and then made their breakthrough at the NCAA tournament, reaching the Elite Eight under Dan Monson in 1999. Few have inherited a better situation than Drew – but look at what has happened since then. We have never seen a team become a perennial national power competing for the number 1 seed and usually deserving it while staying in their medium sized conference. In Scott Drew and Mark Few we have two of the sport’s miracle workers. Now they hit head to head with a national title on the line.
Lunardi: If Mark Few retired at halftime, he would still be a unanimous Hall of Famer. I mean, he never missed the NCAA tournament, and the Bulldogs level is outrageous on so many levels. As for Scott Drew, it can be argued that his work at Baylor even surpasses that of the Gonzaga’s two-decade dynasty. Which program was in a deeper hole, especially when compared to the competition? The answer should be Baylor, but Drew may need another title for his invitation to Springfield, Massachusetts. Just ask his Big 12 compatriot Bob Huggins.
Who is on your shortlist for the most outstanding players of the tournament to take part in the game on Monday?
Lunardi: It’s a shame we don’t have a game for third place or we might see UCLA’s Johnny Juzang as the most outstanding player of the tournament. It happened. In 1965, Bill Bradley led Princeton to third place, scoring a record 58 points in a 118-82 victory over Wichita State (after Michigan “held” Bradley at 29 in the semifinals). Aside from the history lesson, Drew Timme was the top performer of the tournament (with Davion Mitchell the most valuable member of the Baylor Ensemble cast).
Gasaway: We need to go back to the tradition where a player can earn MOP honors even if their team doesn’t win the title. And by “we have to” I mean in particular that I want to say hello to these two great candidates before I know which of their teams will win or lose. Mitchell was sensational against the Houston Cougars in the Final Four, scoring 12-11 points – assists double-double, while Quentin Grimes was mostly limited to 13 points. (“Most of the time” means when Marcus Sasser started shooting shots for Houston, Mitchell was reassigned.) Before the game against the Cougars, Mitchell was already the best all-round player on his team, dealing the ball, hitting shots, and the Ball shut down the opponent’s top scorer.
On the other hand, Timme was no less outstanding for Gonzaga. In the midst of well-deserved praise for Baylor’s offensive rebound, for example, it should be noted that Timme was the tournament’s standout offensive rebound among survivors at the Final Four. Plus. He distributed the ball and scored well over 60% of his 2s as his team’s top scorer.
Baylors Davion Mitchell picks a 3-pointer to end the first half in which he and his teammates set fire.
Medcalf: No matter what, Johnny Juzang should get an award for what he did for the Bruins during that run. But I think it’s Drew Timme and Davion Mitchell. Jared Butler had a championship performance for his team in the Final Four against Houston. But Mitchell and Timme both had a significant impact on their teams throughout the NCAA tournament. And they both did the work on offense and defense. They also play alongside stars. That makes it harder to stand out in those moments, but I think it’s clear that without the efforts of these two players, Baylor and Gonzaga would not have made it to Monday’s national title game. Seriously though, Johnny Juzang should get something for what he did for the Bruins. Amazing effort.
Borzello: If Gonzaga wins, the answer is Timme. If Baylor wins, the answer is Mitchell. Timme has been dominant since Gonzaga passed Norfolk State in the first round and scored 30 points, 13 rebounds and four assists against Oklahoma. 22 points, six rebounds and four assists against Creighton; and 23 points, five rebounds and four assists against the best post-defender in the country in USC’s Evan Mobley. Timme then wanted to single-handedly lead Gonzaga to an extra time win against UCLA.
Mitchell was amazing on both ends of the floor. Mitchell, the best full-back in college basketball, slowed Moses Moody and Quentin Grimes, averaging 13.2 points and 6.0 assists in the NCAA tournament. He will also face Gonzaga’s guards on Monday.
Give us your score prediction and what we will say about the winner afterwards
Gasaway: Gonzaga 79, Baylor 75. We will say that Gonzaga became the first national champion in 45 years to achieve a place in history that went undefeated. In retrospect, people will say that they saw this coming naturally. It is closer to the truth to be said that nobody did it. Even making the national title game on a perfect record hasn’t happened in 42 years and it has long been said that we will never see an undefeated champion again. There will even be people trying to put an asterisk next to this achievement because it happened during a shortened season that happened amid a global pandemic. But the numbers are clear enough: Gonzaga is really one of the best teams we’ve seen in recent years. Yes, UCLA put the Bulldogs into overtime, but that happened to Indiana too – twice! – 1975-76.
Mark Few did the impossible and built a multi-year national power at a small Jesuit school in the West Coast Conference. We’ve already seen history being made over the past 20 years, but a Monday night win would set an indelible exclamation point after all that has come before.
Borzello: Gonzaga 88, Baylor 83. I would imagine a lot of people will complain that Gonzaga is in the WCC and how many losses they would have had in a Big Ten that knocked out one team on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. But personally, the Bulldogs are the most dominant team I’ve seen in my life. Granted, I was around 4 years old by UNLV in the early 1990s, so I can’t compare the two. But this season the best team I can remember was the 2018 Villanova team.
The 2018 Wildcats were just a juggernaut in the NCAA tournament and never looked like they were in danger of losing. Gonzaga has been doing the same for the past three weeks, but they have also done it for the past 4½ months. To be the first undefeated champion in 45 years is an incredible feat, and the Bulldogs did it in an absolutely dominant way. They have lottery tips, they have professionals, they have an elite five and up, they have an incredible trainer, and they have an intergenerational offensive. What more do you want?
Dick Vitale breaks down what he expects from Baylor’s game against Gonzaga for the men’s national championship.
Medcalf: Gonzaga 92, Baylor 87. I think we’re going to say that Mark Few definitely deserves to be mentioned with other elite coaches who have won national titles including Tony Bennett, Tom Izzo and Bill Self. Few have been in this category for years, but the championship solidifies it.
I think we’ll also call this one of the greatest runs we’ve ever seen. Beating Baylor – along with West Virginia, Kansas, Virginia, Iowa and USC in addition to thriller over UCLA – on the way to a 32-0 season is also an undeniable endorsement. I just think people need to understand how difficult it is to go undefeated. And Gonzaga, if the team wins on Monday, has made it into what is perhaps the most challenging season in the game’s history. Most of all I think we will just appreciate what Few and Gonzaga achieved. Their story is the story of college basketball and the diversity within the game. That a team from Spokane, Washington can win anything says a lot about the changing landscape and the potential of college basketball.
Lunardi: If this were a best of seven, the series would have at least six games and maybe the limit. And my choice would be Gonzaga. Which game in this hypothetical series will we get on Monday night? Who knows? But I’ll stick to the probability – and the Zags – 90-85 and make history in the process.