Final Four X-factors for every remaining team
The eyes of the world will fall on Indianapolis this weekend for the Final Four. The two best teams in the nation, Baylor and Gonzaga, are joined by Houston and UCLA, as they vie to cut down the nets on Monday night.
While many people are familiar with the biggest names on these squads, it remains to be seen which supporting players will step up and provide the extra edge to help will their teams to victory. Here are the four players we believe will be the x-factors for their teams this weekend.
Baylor: Davion Mitchell
To see just how important Mitchell’s stellar defense has been to the Bears, go back to the team's Elite Eight game against Arkansas. Despite picking up two fouls early in the game, Scott Drew brought him back in to help slow down the Razorbacks’ backcourt. He picked up his third foul before the break, and things looked bad. However, Mitchell fought through the foul issues, and helped shut down Moses Moody to the tune of just 11 points on 2-of-10 shooting.
Named the National Defensive Player of the Year on Friday, Mitchell has arguably been Baylor’s best player so far this tournament. He is averaging 13.5 points and five dimes per game, and his harassment of opposing guards has caused problems every round.
He will be asked to do the same to DeJon Jarreau, who is not at 100% health-wise. Jarreau has eight assists in each of Houston’s last two games, and Mitchell will be key in limiting his ability to impact the game. If they make the final and face Gonzaga, his defense will become even more important against Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs in what could be the best guard matchup of the entire tournament.
Gonzaga: Jalen Suggs
Okay, you might be saying, "Yeah, obviously the stud freshman who will be taken in the top-five of the NBA Draft will be an X-factor." Well, just like with Mitchell, it’s Suggs' defense that makes him the choice here.
Suggs ranked in the top 20 nationally this season in steal rate, and so far in the tournament he has six swipes. He also came up huge on the glass in the victory over USC, grabbing nine defensive boards as he came just two assists shy of a triple-double. Against UCLA, he will be tasked with locking down PG Tyger Campbell, and will likely be asked to help deny him getting the ball to star Johnny Juzang.
Loyola Chicago's best defender, Lucas Williamson, ranks 2nd in the nation in Defensive Bayesian Performance Rating.— Evan Miyakawa (@evanmiya) March 27, 2021
1. Jalen Suggs
2. Lucas Williamson
3. Kofi Cockburn
4. Isaiah Jackson
5. Franz Wagner
6. Brad Greene
10. Dickinson pic.twitter.com/SSRxrdVnfu
It will also be important for Gonzaga that Suggs play this weekend like he did in the Elite Eight game, and not like he did in the Sweet 16 against Creighton. He compounded a poor shooting night by turning it over six times, nearly as many times as he did the first two rounds combined. He might get away with that against the Bruins, but doing so in the title game could cost Gonzaga its shot at an unbeaten run.
Houston: Justin Gorham
A major part of the Cougars’ run this season has been their work on the offensive glass, and Gorham is the biggest reason for that. Against, Oregon State, they snagged an astounding 46% of their missed shots on the offensive end. Gorham hauled in five of those 19 boards, but scored just six points on the night. Over the past two games, Gorham has nine offensive rebounds, and the team has secured 30 of its missed efforts.
Gorham will likely have plenty of chances to grab offensive boards against a Baylor frontcourt that has been less than impressive in the tournament. If he can grab five or more rebounds, and get some easy put-backs, it could turn the tide. Then, if Houston gets to the title game and faces Gonzaga, his contributions will become even more vital to the Cougars' title hopes.
UCLA: Cody Riley
Riley has been an important piece of UCLA’s terrific defense in the tournament, averaging more than a block per game and altering numerous shots. Foul trouble has been a problem for Riley, as he played just 18 minutes before fouling out against Michigan, and he has played more than 26 minutes just once in the tournament. Through five games, Riley has picked up 18 fouls, limiting his ability to impact the game.
The biggest way Riley can help his team knock off Gonzaga is to give the Bruins more effort on the glass. Against Michigan, he failed to grab a single rebound, and had just five against Alabama. Riley will likely be matched up with Drew Timme, and for the Bruins to have any hope they need him to stay on the floor, and limit the Bulldogs to one shot per trip.