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Three reasons why Gonzaga won't win the NCAA Tournament

Profile Picture: Jason Ence

March 24th, 2021

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are just four victories away from being college basketball's first unbeaten national champion in 45 years. While they are favored to win the title, going undefeated is a huge ask of any team.

NCAAB Championship 2020/2021

Tue, April 6 2021, 12:58 AM

Gonzaga Bulldogs

+155

Baylor Bears

+350

Michigan Wolverines

+750

Houston Cougars

+900

Alabama Crimson Tide

+1100

Loyola Chicago Ramblers

+1300

Florida State Seminoles

+1500

Arkansas Razorbacks

+2000

USC Trojans

+2500

Oregon Ducks

+3300

Let’s break down the three biggest reasons why the Bulldogs are unlikely to be the last team standing during March Madness.

1. Gonzaga suffers from a lack of bench depth

Gonzaga has as good of a starting five as any team in the tournament, but the Bulldogs' bench has glaring holes. Mark Few has been hesitant to go deep down the sideline, and showed that in the team's 16-point win over Oklahoma. The Bulldogs saw just two players combine for a mere 25 minutes off the bench, as Anton Watson and Aaron Cook are the only non-starters this season to average double-digit minutes.

Watson can pour it on—he scored 17 points in the first-round win over Norfolk State—but he can be streaky as well. Cook is not a strong shooter, making just 32% of his threes despite being the only bench player to make more than 10 shots from behind the arc this season.

Oklahoma hung with Gonzaga for much of the first half, but was worn down as the game went on. The Bulldogs overcame Corey Kispert picking up two fouls, but the 21-12 foul disparity helped the Zags as well. Gonzaga has avoided foul trouble most of the year, but were they to run into a team that can get into their bench, it could expose their biggest flaw and be the team's ultimate downfall.

2. The Bears have come out of hibernation

After taking a pause due to COVID-19 cases in the program, the Baylor Bears struggled to beat Iowa State, before losing their unbeaten season on the road at Kansas in a 13-point loss. They won their next four games before losing to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament, but they simply weren’t the same team they were prior to the pause.

The NCAA Tournament seems to have renewed that dominant form, as Baylor has won each of its first two games in convincing fashion. The Bears' win over Wisconsin, a very good defensive squad, saw them put up offensive numbers akin to the best teams in the NBA as they averaged 119 points per 100 possessions.

Their three point shooting is up at the moment, their defensive energy is causing teams problems, and they are clicking on all cylinders. The Bears' size, athleticism, and speed could be more than enough to derail Gonzaga in the championship game, should they meet there.

3. It's excruciatingly hard to go unbeaten

Only five teams have entered the tournament unbeaten since Indiana last ran the table in 1976, and the previous four all fell short. The last to do so was the 2015-16 Kentucky Wildcats, a team so deep and talented they ran two "platoons" of five players and had NBA star Devin Booker coming off the bench.

Sometimes it’s running into a team that simply has your number. Other times, it is facing adversity for the first time and not knowing how to deal with it. No matter the reason, it is very difficult to go unbeaten for an entire season, and the pressure of the NCAA Tournament simply makes it harder to get those final few victories. For a Bulldogs team that has not faced many top-level teams this year, it could be a combination of factors, especially if a team exposes a path to beating them.

If the Bulldogs get past Creighton, they will have to square off with either USC or Oregon. Both teams have looked very good thus far, and can give them problems with their size and defense. A Final Four matchup with likely Michigan or Alabama would then see them run into talent they’ve yet to see this season.

For my money, I believe that Gonzaga will hit a speed bump or two on their way to the title, but they should make it to the title game. There, I believe it will be Baylor that takes them down just shy of the ultimate goal.

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