NCAA Tournament 2021: Odds and Predictions for Final Four Bracket

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistApril 2, 2021

Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs (1) shoots ahead of Southern California forward Max Agbonkpolo, left, during the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have covered the spread in each of their four NCAA men's basketball tournament games this year.

The No. 1 overall seed won 29 of its 30 games this season by double digits, and it is projected to win by a similar margin Saturday over the UCLA Bruins. UCLA deserves credit for winning four times as the moneyline underdog, but Gonzaga is a different force compared to the other top programs it has faced.

The Michigan Wolverines were the closest team to Gonzaga that UCLA took on in Indianapolis, but there is still a decent-sized gap between Gonzaga and Michigan, especially when Isaiah Livers is not on the floor.

Saturday's first national semifinal between the Baylor Bears and Houston Cougars is expected to be much closer. Baylor is favored by five points and has been viewed as the only team that can reach the echelon Gonzaga is in. But to test itself against the Bulldogs, it must get by a stingy Houston defense that has no problem playing a game in the 60s.


Final Four Schedule and Odds

Saturday, April 3

No. 1 Baylor (-5) vs. No. 2 Houston (Over/Under: 134.5) (5:14 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 1 Gonzaga (-14.5) vs. No. 11 UCLA (O/U: 145.5) (8:34 p.m. ET, CBS)



Gonzaga (-14.5) vs. UCLA

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

The only way UCLA can be competitive with Gonzaga is if it plays excellent defense and Johnny Juzang turns in another spectacular performance.

The latter of the two has a higher chance of happening since Juzang is shooting at a high volume, but the defense that took UCLA this far could be exposed by Gonzaga's offense.

UCLA was the first team to take advantage of Livers' absence in the Michigan offense, and it benefited from a poor shooting night from most of his replacements Tuesday.

Franz Wagner's air ball from three-point range on a potential game-winning shot was the perfect play to sum up Michigan's offensive struggles. It shot 39.2 percent from the field, 27.3 percent from three-point range and went 6-of-11 at the free-throw line.

UCLA will not get as lucky on Saturday since Gonzaga has rarely shown that much offensive weakness.

Gonzaga has eclipsed the 80-point mark in every one of its games in the NCAA tournament, and it has two wins since February 1 with fewer than 80 points. In the February 4 win over the Pacific Tigers and the March 8 victory against the Saint Mary's Gaels, Gonzaga won by double figures by holding both opponents under 60 points.

Even if Gonzaga struggles to start, it has consistently found an extra gear to pull away from opponents. The BYU Cougars turned in the best first half against Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament final, but they blew a 12-point halftime lead to lose by 10.

Whenever Gonzaga has been tested, it has come up with an in-game answer, which is why it is so hard to see UCLA staying in the contest. The Bruins can't clone Juzang, who has 108 points in five games, and there is a chance his shooting lanes are taken away.

The USC Trojans entered the Elite Eight with three double-digit wins powered by terrific three-point shooting. They were held to 26.7 percent from downtown Tuesday.

If Gonzaga smothers UCLA's guards, it could open up the possibility of a first-half blowout. If you do not feel comfortable with the 14.5-point spread, the first-half lines could be the way to bet Gonzaga. The Bulldogs held a double-digit lead at halftime in their four NCAA tournament games and scored at least 43 points in those halves.

The first-half line is eight points, while the first-half over/under sits at 69. Both could cash in again if the Zags impose their will on UCLA early.


Baylor (-5) vs. Houston 

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Baylor is more suited to winning a high-scoring game than Houston.

The Bears have also displayed a closing ability that only Gonzaga has been able to replicate this season.

Scott Drew's team has four victories of nine points or more in Indianapolis. It reached the 75-point mark in three of those victories.

Houston has to win by playing suffocating defense and holding Baylor under 70 points. The Villanova Wildcats tried that in the Sweet 16 but were done in by turnovers late in the second half. The Cougars could follow a similar strategy as Villanova by driving to the rim to take high-percentage shots instead of trying to beat Baylor in a high-scoring affair.

Kelvin Sampson's team can slow down the pace and frustrate Baylor from three-point range, but all you have to do is look at the Villanova game for how well the Bears make adjustments. Baylor nailed two three-point shots in the first half and went into the locker room facing a seven-point deficit versus Jay Wright's team.

Drew implored his team to drive to the basket more. The success from that move boosted the team's confidence, and it played with a deeper fire on the defensive end. Baylor outscored Villanova by 18 points in the second half, and it only made one three-pointer.

Baylor has the defenders, led by Mark Vital, to deal with the agility of DeJon Jarreau, Quentin Grimes and Marcus Sasser. The Bears can also match Houston's length and driving ability on the offensive end through Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler and MaCio Teague.

If Baylor can neutralize the offensive output of Houston's guards, it could pull away in a similar fashion to its Elite Eight win over the Arkansas Razorbacks. In that game, the Bears sped out to a double-digit advantage, withstood a second-half run and won by nine points.

Even if the Bears do not create separation until the second half, we know that late surge will come, and when it does, the Big 12 side could open up a lead that is large enough to cover the five-point spread.


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.

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