Takeaways from the NCAA National Championship Game: Baylor was nearly flawless
In a year marked by uncertainty and a surprising shakeup in the NCAA Tournament, the men’s national championship game between Gonzaga and Baylor produced the most shocking result of all.
The top-seeded Bulldogs entered Monday night’s matchup in the role of Goliath, with a majority of bettors laying the points on Gonzaga -4.5. Fans were so certain the previously undefeated squad was destined for a national title that nearly 40% of them picked Mark Few’s group to win it all in their March Madness bracket.
But on college basketball's biggest stage, Gonzaga fell well short of perfection.
The No. 1 seed Baylor Bears, out of the South Region, marched to an authoritative 86-70 victory, and never trailed the entire game.
Now that Baylor’s lopsided win has sunk in, let’s look back on the major takeaways from last night's action.
Defense wins national championships
After leading the nation in offense all season, with an average of 91.6 points per game, the Bulldogs scored a season-low 70 points and could hardly find a rhythm against Baylor's stingy defense.
The Bears turned up the aggression from the start and held Gonzaga to 5-of-17 from the arc, while they forced 14 turnovers. The Bulldogs ended up shooting 51% from the field, but only put up 49 shots for the game, well below their season average.
Zags lost by double digits while shooting 51% from the field.— Greg Wrubell (@gregwrubell) April 6, 2021
Baylor got off 18 more field goal attempts than Gonzaga.
Gonzaga looked flustered from tipoff, and took over five minutes to score its first basket.
Baylor's dominance on the glass also made a huge difference. The team out-rebounded Gonzaga 38-22, and grabbed 16 offensive boards, compared to just five for the Bulldogs.
Baylor played a near-flawless game
Aside from its defensive excellence, the best three-point team in the land showed up with another impressive performance on offense.
The Bears hit 10 three-pointers, including four by junior guard Jared Butler, which helped the team build as large as a 20-point lead with 10:39 left in the second half.
Baylor also took advantage at the charity stripe, going 16-of-18, while some of Gonzaga's best players were relegated to the bench with foul trouble.
The backcourt of Butler, Davion Mitchell, and MaCio Teague combined for 56 points, and senior Mark Vital tallied a game-high 11 rebounds.
Baylor wins its first National Championship, while also getting its 1st win over an AP No. 1 opponent (entered game 0-8).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 6, 2021
The Bears never trailed becoming the first team to win the National Championship game without trailing since UConn in 2014. pic.twitter.com/Kws2TNzRkA
Before COVID-19 issues forced Baylor to take nearly a month off in February, the team appeared as dangerous as Gonzaga.
Two losses following their hiatus had the public fading the Bears before the tournament, but on Monday night, Baylor was unquestionably the better team on the court.
Mark Few deserves an NCAA title
In head coach Mark Few's 22-year tenure with the Zags, his team has earned a top seed in four of the last eight NCAA tourneys, but has yet to win a championship.
Whenever the Bulldogs get knocked out of the tournament, the same criticism emerges — that the West Coast Conference member was overrated because its record was inflated by a weak conference schedule.
While it would be easy to fall back on that criticism after Monday's result, this Gonzaga team was far from overhyped.
The Bulldogs won games by an average margin of 23 points throughout the season and owned a 26-0 record entering the Big Dance.
BYU represented their toughest conference opponent, and the Bulldogs beat them by double-digits in two regular-season games, plus the 2021 WCC Conference Championship.
Out-of-conference, Gonzaga proved its mettle. The Bulldogs topped then-No. 6 Kansas, 102-90, in the season opener, demolished Auburn, edged past No. 11 West Virginia, and beat down on No. 3 Iowa and No. 16 Virginia.
Gonzaga truly looked like a team capable of a perfect season, but one off night led to a crushing blow.
Nonetheless, the Bulldogs already opened as the favorite to win next year's championship.
NCAAB Championship 2021/2022
Mon, April 4 2022, 10:00 PM
Ohio State Buckeyes
Illinois Fighting Illini
Duke Blue Devils
While Few didn't have his team prepared enough for Baylor, he should be able to take next year's team on another run in the Big Dance. The Bulldogs keep getting close, and it's only a matter of time before Few figures out how to get over the hump and win a title.
Perfection will continue to elude college basketball
In a COVID-shortened season, Gonzaga had an easier road than most to a perfect record.
In a traditional regular season, the average team competes in 33 games. This year, Gonzaga played 24 games before the conference tournament, and needed six straight victories during March Madness to cap off a perfect season.
The seventh, and most recent, team to go unbeaten in the regular season and NCAA Tournament was Bob Knight's 1975-76 team, which finished 32-0.
Since 1976, five teams, including this year's Gonzaga squad, have lost their only game of the season in the tourney.
Of those five, only Gonzaga and the 1979 Indiana State Sycamores, featuring Larry Bird, fell in the title game.
If Gonzaga couldn't get the job done this year with an abbreviated schedule, it's difficult to imagine what team could do so in the future.
Until then, the '76 Hoosiers can pop champagne in celebration as the last team to pull off perfection.