Which team will spring a March Madness upset in the Final Four?
Could we possibly get more upsets in the season of upsets?
Every round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament has produced unexpected results, so why would the surprises stop now?
Unfortunately for the underdogs, the two favorites remaining have been the top teams — by a wide margin — all season. There are no more vulnerable No. 1 seeds. Gonzaga and Baylor are legit and formidable.
But does that mean the Cinderella story of UCLA and the gritty Houston Cougars are hopeless?
Let's take a look.
Which Final Four matchup is most likely to produce an upset?
#2 Houston vs. #1 Baylor
Sat, April 3 2021, 9:14 PM
Luck has been a factor for many Final Four teams over the years, whether they have escaped close calls or had a favorable path to the national semifinals.
But Houston has taken that to the extreme.
The Cougars are the first squad to advance to the Final Four without encountering a single-digit seed along the way. They cruised through the opening round against No. 15 Cleveland State, just got by No. 10 Rutgers in the second round, crushed No. 11 Syracuse in the Sweet 16, and survived a furious comeback from No. 12 Oregon State in the Elite Eight.
It would stand to reason that a team of Baylor's talent would be a rude awakening for Houston, but the point spread indicates a tighter contest. Do the Cougars have the ability to run with the Bears?
Both No. 3 Arkansas and No. 5 Villanova made a game of it for Baylor in the last two rounds, but ultimately talent won out.
However, Kelvin Sampson's squad has had a standout defensive tournament. Houston's opponents have averaged just 55.8 points per game in four tournament games, and perhaps the competition has tinged the stat, but even beyond that, the Cougars have allowed more than 68 points just twice in 31 games this season.
Tremendous defensive possession from Houston last night (one of many). The Cougars take great pride in guarding the ball - absolutely refuse to let it get to paint. Force tough 2s. #Defense pic.twitter.com/yrAfnbBVPb— Chris Richardson (@CRich4) March 30, 2021
Villanova was able to slow it down against Baylor in the Sweet 16, but the strategy still didn't lead to a win. In their other three tournament games, the Bears have averaged 78.7 points.
#11 UCLA vs. #1 Gonzaga
Sun, April 4 2021, 12:34 AM
There hasn't been a spread this large in the Final Four since the NCAA Tournament expanded to a 64-team format in the 1980s.
Beyond the Final Four, however, the last time we saw a spread this large, at this stage or later, was when Kentucky as a 14-point favorite in the 1996 national title game against Syracuse (the Wildcats won, but did not cover, 76-67).
Gonzaga has been an ATM for spread bettors during the 2021 NCAA Tournament, with a 4-0 record against the spread, including a 85-66 dismantling of USC, a team that came into the Elite Eight white hot.
UCLA has advanced this far by slugging it out against teams with more talent, and Mick Cronin deserves "Coach of the Tournament," if that was an award, but slugging it out with Gonzaga is like fighting the Hydra.
Even if the Bruins were to neutralize one threat — say, Jalen Suggs (nearly impossible) or Drew Timme (good luck) — the Zags have more than enough to compensate. There is not a weak link in the starting lineup, and they always seem to find the best shot on any possession.
The world deserves to see Jalen Suggs play with Steph and Klay and Draymond pic.twitter.com/qMGWLujL1W— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) March 30, 2021
But how can you really count UCLA out, considering its run?
The Bruins have scrapped their way to five tournament wins and have been the underdog in every game except a 20-point rout of No. 14 Abilene Christian.
How they defeated Michigan is almost too hard to believe. Both teams were dismal offensively, but a deeper look at the individual stats emphasizes the offensive difficulties for UCLA. Standout guard Johnny Juzang scored 28 points and hit 11 of his 19 shots from the field. The rest of the Bruins went 10-for-35 from the field and 1-for-8 from three-point range in a 51-49 win. A few hours earlier, Gonzaga scored 49 points in the first half against USC.
It will be easy to root for the Bruins, but this hill seems almost impossible to climb.