The Final Four is happening this weekend. #2 Houston vs. #1 Baylor on Saturday at 2:14 PM PST/5:14 PM EST. #11 UCLA vs. #1 Gonzaga at 5:34 PM PST/8:34 PM EST. Championship game is Monday night.
The real surprise team to make it is UCLA. They were an #11 seed in their region and had to play a play in game, in which they knocked off Michigan State. Following that win, they proceeded to defeat #14 Abilene Christian, #2 Alabama in a thrilling overtime game, and then #1 Michigan by a final score of 51-49.
UCLA was also the third Pac-12 team to reach the Elite Eight with USC and Oregon State being the other two Pac-12 teams. The Pac-12 came into the tournament ranked dead last among all major conferences in college basketball, so they really proved the doubters wrong by getting three teams to the Elite Eight. It could have been four teams if it weren’t for the fact that USC had to face Pac-12 foe Oregon in the Sweet Sixteen. Otherwise, we could have very well seen four Pac-12 teams in the Elite Eight.
Gonzaga and Baylor are not surprises at all. Both came in as heavy favorites to reach the Final Four. Most brackets on ESPN, Yahoo, etc. have picked Gonzaga to go all the way while Baylor has been a popular alternate choice to Gonzaga. Gonzaga came into the tournament undefeated, so there’s a lot of chatter about whether or not they can run the table and go all the way. Baylor does a have a couple of losses, but in peak form, they too have looked close to unbeatable.
Gonzaga has won all of their NCAA tournament games by double digits, so they haven’t really been pushed yet. And with UCLA being an 11 seed, it’s likely that Gonzaga advances to the championship game with another double digit victory. As for Baylor, their first three wins were all by double digits and their Elite Eight victory over Arkansas was 81-72. So, they too haven’t faced much resistance.
As for Houston, they came in highly ranked, but there were some questions about them due to their schedule coming into the tournament. Their two losses were to teams with losing records, so that raised some eyebrows. That said, they proved they were worthy of their ranking. I admittedly had them bowing out in the Round of 32 to Clemson, so they certainly proved me wrong.
Houston has had a couple of close games. Their Round of 32 game was close, though it was against Rutgers, who knocked off Clemson. The final score in that game was 63-60. They also had a close 67-61 win over Oregon State in the Elite Eight. So, they’ve definitely been pushed. The big storyline here is that Houston is back in the Final Four for the first time since 1984. So, it’s been a long time coming for them.
As for my prediction, I did pick Gonzaga to win it all at the start of the tournament and I see no reason to pick against them at this point. I’m highly confident they’ll beat UCLA rather handily. The only team I could see beating them is Baylor. Baylor certainly has the weapons to beat Gonzaga and they too have marched through the tournament with little difficulty. So, I’m expecting to see Gonzaga defeat Baylor on Monday night in the championship game, though I certainly don’t want to take anything away from UCLA or Houston.