Final Four men’s preview: Breaking down Baylor-Houston, Gonzaga-UCLA matchups

The Final Four matchups in the men's NCAA Tournament are set. 

No. 1 Baylor will take on No. 2 Houston (5:14 p.m. ET, CBS) and No. 1 Gonzaga will face UCLA (8:34 p.m. ET, CBS) in Indianapolis on Saturday.

The Bears (26-2) are back in the Final Four for the first time since 1950, while the Cougars (28-3) are returning to college basketball's final weekend for the first time since 1984 during the Phi Slama Jama era. Baylor coach Scott Drew is in his first Final Four, while Houston coach Kelvin Sampson is returning on a redemptive path. 

The Bulldogs (30-0) are chasing a perfect season and coach Mark Few is back in his second Final Four after coming up just short of a national title in 2017. The Bruins (22-9) are the outlier here as a No. 11 seed but they've proved their worth by slaying No. 1 seed Michigan and No. 2 seed Alabama to get here. Coach Mick Cronin has taken UCLA from First Four to Final Four.

USA TODAY Sports examines the matchups: 

Baylor vs. Houston

How Baylor has the edge. The Bears have college basketball's most potent backcourt behind Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell – averaging a combined 46.4 points. The trio blends well. They help Baylor lead the nation in three-point shooting field goal percentage (41%). Butler is a first-team All-American who hasn't played his best basketball in this NCAA Tournament, but he has takeover abilities as the program's go-to scorer the past two seasons. 

How Houston has the edge: The Cougars are arguably the best defense remaining, leading the nation in field goal percentage defense. They've contained opponents in this tournament to an average of 55.7 points. Sampson's teams at Oklahoma had this same type of out-tough-the-opponent DNA, so expect Houston to make it difficult for Baylor's guards to get going from deep when it's smothering them on the perimeter. The Cougars do the little things if they're not connecting from three-point range to keep the momentum in their favor, including offensive rebounding for second-chance points. 

Key player for the Bears: Mitchell. Even though Teague can carve through defenses and Butler can score in a variety of ways, it's Mitchell who is the central part of the three-headed backcourt attack. Mitchell is Baylor's backbone, playing with an aggressiveness and tenacity that is contagious.

Key player for the Cougars: DeJon Jarreau. The American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year has been one of the best stoppers in this tournament, playing a big part in Houston limiting Syracuse's Buddy Boeheim in the Sweet 16 and Oregon State's Ethan Thompson in the Elite Eight. The 6-5 senior guard will shadow the best player; it will depend on which of Baylor's three guards is hot at the time. 

Which team reaches the title game? Baylor, 73-62. Not many teams score more than 60 points on Houston, but the Bears have the offensive firepower to do it. Baylor's guards operate great in a halfcourt set, just as well as in transition. Houston is used to slowing teams with a tempo-controlling defense, but the Bears are used to that from great competition in Big 12 play. Baylor has faced 12 top-30 NET-ranked teams since January, compared to Houston's two. 

BRACKETS: Men's and women's NCAA Tournament results and schedule

OPINION: This Final Four makes perfect sense, even in a bizarre men's basketball season

OPINION:  UCLA should enjoy celebration before Gonzaga steamrolls way to title game

Source: Read Full Article