Before the NCAA Tournament tipped off, this is what I wrote about Gonzaga as apart of my five predictions for the tournament:
Excerpt from 3/19/21
32-0. The 2nd perfect season ever, the only one since the ’76 Hoosiers. In Indiana. That’ll be the dominant storyline with this team if and when they cut down the nets in Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5th. They’re the best team in the land, and it’s not particularly close. Don’t come at me with the “2019 Duke” narrative. Stop it. That Duke team heavily, heavily relied on their talent. This Zags team has both really good talent and a good backbone to them. We know of Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, and Drew Timme. They’re great players. But Ayayi is a very key guy for them and Nembhard can go out and get buckets. Those five guys are better than any other 5-man lineup in the country, and they can turn to Watson and Cook and trust them to play at a high level as well.
The scariest part about them, which separates them not just from the Gonzaga teams of the past and all the other college teams in the country, is that they carry themselves with almost insane confidence. They never feel out of control. They don’t panic. It’s almost like they’re playing a whole different sport. Now, could they get tripped up in this tournament and we and sit back and say “wow, they did get too confident. They didn’t take that team seriously?” Sure, of course, we can. But I think this team is head and shoulders above the field and they’ll put their imprint on this tournament and put themselves into the March Madness history books.
Fast forward to April 5th. Gonzaga loses, handily, in the National Title game. What did we learn from it? What did I learn from it?
1. The Storyline Narrative was with Baylor this whole time
I was buying the Gonzaga storyline way too much. They’re going to go 32-0 and finish it off in the state of Indiana. They have to. They will cement themselves as one of the greatest college teams of all time. They’re that good. But I got caught up in that line of thinking. I totally “overlooked” or “undervalued” or “dismissed” the Baylor storylines that were right there.
The Baylor storylines included that for one, Scott Drew took over the program in the summer of 2003 in the aftermath of one Baylor player literally murdering another Baylor player, and the subsequent cover-up attempt by then-head coach Dave Bliss as he framed the murdered player, Patrick Dennehy, for being a drug dealer. So Monday night was the culmination of the redemption story for Baylor and Scott Drew.
Another storyline working for Baylor was, in fact, Gonzaga’s perfect season bid, but how Scott Drew was destined to be the one who stopped it from happening because he’s from Indiana and of course the Hoosiers had the last perfect season in 1976.
And thirdly, Baylor was running it back with their keys guys from the 2019-20 season in which they also started out very hot and then dipped a bit by the time the NCAA Tournament would’ve begun, but ultimately they would’ve been a 1-seed had the Tournament happened.
So maybe it was an “unfinished business” mentality that Mitchell, Butler, Teague, and Vital took when COVID struck and ended their amazing 19-20 season, and so they all ran it back and added some other key pieces to the rotation and screwed around and won the whole thing this season.
2. Gonzaga didn’t have the athletes or the mindset to compete with Baylor
Baylor jumped Gonzaga from the start and never looked back. It really never became a competitive game. Baylor played with such controlled aggression and continued to hit their shots to stretch the lead. Jalen Suggs was the only guy on Gonzaga who could compete at Baylor’s level. Cook, Ayayi, and even Nembhard were often forced to pick up their dribble very far away from the basket because Mitchell and company were hounding them chest to chest. They were simply unaccustomed to dealing with ball pressure. They almost seemed to be shell-shocked at the intensity of the man-to-man defense, as it totally disrupted their free-flowing offense that had been so dominant all season long.
And then, of course, Timme and Kispert got overwhelmed themselves with the physicality of Baylor’s front-court. A very telling sign to me was when, maybe halfway through the first half, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua stole the ball from Timme on two possessions in a span of maybe two minutes. At that point, it was apparent that Baylor was totally dominating and dictating the game, and Corey Kispert, the All-American, got swallowed up by the Bears and never really made a positive impact on the game.
That’s it. I think that those two themes summarize what happened Monday night in Indianapolis. Congrats to Baylor, and happy trails to Gonzaga.
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