Expert Picks for the 2021 NCAA Men's Tournament Championship Game

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2021

Expert Picks for the 2021 NCAA Men's Tournament Championship Game

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    INDIANAPOLIS  Throughout the 2020-21 men's college basketball season, the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Baylor Bears stood atop the rankings. Perhaps it's only fitting that the top-ranked programs will be playing for the national championship.

    First, however, please pause for this Jalen Suggs-induced exclamation.

    OH MY GAAAWWWD.

    Thank you for your patience. Gonzaga reached the national title game because its All-American freshman hit a legendary shot. After UCLA's Johnny Juzang hit a game-tying layup with 3.3 seconds to play in overtime, Suggs banked in a 35-footer at the buzzer for a soon-to-be iconic 93-90 victory.

    Baylor had a far less dramatic finish, building a 25-point halftime lead and smacking Houston 78-59. And after the regular-season showdown couldn't be played, the Bears will finally get their crack at the wire-to-wire No. 1 team.

    Several key matchups and statistical battles will help determine the 2021 champion. Bleacher Report's college basketball crew identified the biggest storylines and picked which team has the edge.

Which Backcourt Wins the Day?

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    Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell
    Jared Butler and Davion MitchellMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Among the many things to be excited about in this matchup, both Baylor and Gonzaga boast a pair of All-Americans in the backcourt. Baylor has Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell, while Gonzaga counters with Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert.

    Baylor, in short, has a bunch of shooters.

    Four playersButler, Mitchell, MaCio Teague and Adam Flaglerhave attempted 100-plus threes. Led by Mitchell at 45.3 percent, all four connect at a 38.9 percent clip or better. Throw in stretch-4 Matthew Mayer at an even 40.0 percent, and it's no surprise the Bears are ranked No. 1 nationally from beyond the arc.

    Gonzaga isn't as dynamic from three-point distance but still has terrific depth in the backcourt.

    Suggs and Andrew Nembhardwho combined for 14 assists versus UCLAboth average at least 4.4 per game. Joel Ayayi put up 22 points Saturday, and Kispert is a 44.5 percent three-point shooter. Ayayi, Suggs and Nembhard are modest long-range threats too. Together, they'll constantly stress Baylor's stout perimeter defense.

    The key storylines to watch are whether the Zags can contain Butler and Mitchell off the dribble and Mitchell defending Suggs.

                 

    Advantage?

    David Kenyon: Baylor

    Kerry Miller: Gonzaga

    Joel Reuter: Baylor

Which Team Is Strongest in the Post?

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    This one, admittedly, is not so difficult.

    Since both Baylor and Gonzaga lean on their backcourts, it leaves limited minutes for post players. And there aren't many forwards and centers who are more productive than Gonzaga's Drew Timme.

    In the NCAA tournament alone, Timme has racked up 22.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. His low-post effectiveness provided a massive lift in Gonzaga's win over UCLA, and Baylor simply doesn't have a similar type of player.

    Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Flo Thamba will be tasked with slowing the All-American. That's the primary responsibility for those players, considering neither one is much of a major offensive threat. Granted, Timme isn't exactly an elite defender.

    Expect the Zags to constantly feed Timme on the blocks early Monday in hopes of loosening Baylor's pressure on the perimeter. But if the Bears can contain him, that's a massive win.

                  

    Advantage?

    David Kenyon: Gonzaga

    Kerry Miller: Gonzaga

    Joel Reuter: Gonzaga

Who Wins the Rebounding Battle?

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The disparity in Baylor's rebounding is striking.

    On the offensive end, the Bears have grabbed 38.1 percent of their missesthe eighth-best mark nationally. Mark Vital, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Flo Thamba are integral pieces of this strength. Baylor having the country's No. 1 three-point shooting clip and a rotation that creates second-chance opportunities is a stellar combination.

    Baylor, however, also ranks 270th in offensive rebound rate allowed. That's a key weakness for Gonzaga to exploit, yet the Zags have had double-digit offensive boards only twice in the last 16 games.

    Even if Gonzaga doesn't own the offensive glass, it's plausible the Zags can temper Baylor's prowess in that category. Gonzaga has ceded just a 22.6 offensive rebound rate, 21st nationally.

    Baylor is seemingly best positioned to win the rebounding battle, but it's not overwhelmingly in the Bears' favor.

                 

    Advantage?

    David Kenyon: Baylor

    Kerry Miller: Baylor

    Joel Reuter: Gonzaga

Who Wins the Turnover Battle?

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    There's an easy argument for the turnover battle being the most influential stat of the national championship.

    Entering the matchup, Baylor has a top-10 steal rate nationally. Gonzaga played a tough nonconference slate and has defeated four high-major programs in the NCAA tournament, but none is as close to disruptive as Baylor's defense.

    So, which Gonzaga shows up defensively?

    Although it's not a glaringly low ranking, the Zags are 97th in opponent turnover rate. Gonzaga has averaged 9.3 takeaways in the last six games, which is neither encouraging nor uninspiring. In a one-game sample, its performance could go either way.

    Overall, this is a massive test for Jalen Suggs, Andrew Nembhard and Joel Ayayi. Baylor can take control of the game if Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler and Mark Vital create fast-break chances.

    But if the Bears are sloppy with the ball, it will likely be hugely problematic. Gonzaga has the nation's highest effective field-goal percentage in transition, according to Hoop-Math. If the Zags are able to run, Baylor might have a long night.

                

    Advantage?

    David Kenyon: Baylor

    Kerry Miller: Baylor

    Joel Reuter: Baylor

Pick the Champion: Gonzaga or Baylor?

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The Picks

    David Kenyon: Baylor

    Backcourt: Baylor
    Frontcourt: Gonzaga
    Rebounding: Baylor
    Turnovers: Baylor

    Kerry Miller: Gonzaga

    Backcourt: Gonzaga
    Frontcourt: Gonzaga
    Rebounding: Baylor
    Turnovers: Baylor

    Joel Reuter: Gonzaga

    Backcourt: Baylor
    Froncourt: Gonzaga
    Rebounding: Gonzaga
    Turnovers: Baylor

                      

    Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of KenPom.com or Sports Reference.