Can we just skip ahead to Baylor vs. Gonzaga already? The Bears defeated Kansas State 107-59 Wednesday night, upping their average point differential to 25.7 on the season. That scoring margin leads the nation. The Bulldogs rank second.
Baylor and Gonzaga, Please!
The men’s college basketball landscape is forming on familiar ground. However, what we’re seeing from Baylor and Gonzaga is something basketball fans are more accustomed to on the women’s side. Outlandish point differentials from the top two teams in the nation have created boredom. Outside of studying for brackets, why even bother tuning in? The most exciting thing to look forward to when Baylor and Gonzaga play their respective games is whether or not the end-of-the-bench players will score a late bucket. Those players could be starters at most programs.
With all due respect to Baylor, Wednesday’s 48-point blowout of Kansas State was a combination of the Bears being really good and the Wildcats being really bad. Baylor held Kansas State to 34.6% shooting and forced 21 turnovers. On the offensive side, they shot 57.7% and had 10 more assists (23) than turnovers (13). In fact, Baylor’s star backcourt duo, Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell, are the two national leaders in assists per game and steals per game.
In regard to the Big 12, Baylor leads the conference in scoring offense, scoring margin, field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage, rebounding defense, rebounding margin, assists, steals, assist/turnover ratio, offensive rebound percentage, and three-point field goals made. That was a mouthful.
Now for Gonzaga’s West Coast Conference dominance: The Bulldogs are first in the WCC in scoring offense, scoring margin, field goal percentage, assists, steals, turnover margin, and assist/turnover ratio. That was a little easier to cover.
With that information alone, it would appear that Baylor has an advantage, and The Big 12 is a better league than the WCC. However, conference statistics are skewed and Gonzaga has proven that their opponent doesn’t matter.
The Bulldogs have handled every challenge presented. They’ve defeated all ranked opponents by an average of 12.8 points. Also, they’ve easily combatted any jibber-jabber about possible conference upsets by San Francisco, BYU, Pepperdine, and St. Mary’s.
Baylor posts a 9.6 spread against ranked teams but still has six more Top-25 matchups on their slate. Gonzaga has no such remaining games.
If we filter each of the six comparable conference statistics nationally, Gonzaga is actually the better squad:
-Scoring Offense: Gonzaga-94.4 (1st); Baylor-87.5 (6th)
-Scoring Margin: Baylor-25.7 (1st); Gonzaga-23.8 (2nd)
-Field Goal Percentage: Gonzaga-54.89% (1st); Baylor-50.79% (12th)
-Assists: Gonzaga-19.9 (3rd); Baylor-18.6 (9th)
-Steals: Baylor-9.9 (5th); Gonzaga-8.3 (44th)
-Assist/Turnover Ratio: Gonzaga-1.70 (5th); Baylor-1.48 (17th)
Man, Baylor needs to work on their offense and Gonzaga needs to work on their defense.
Of course, the conference strength argument can come back into play, but keep in mind, the Bulldogs have dominated Big-12 opponents Kansas and West Virginia in non-conference play. Not to mention, they’ve taken down the darlings of the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 10, Virginia and Iowa respectively.
If either team were to stumble, it would be the Bears because of their schedule. However, that is still highly unlikely. Unfortunately, we can only assume what would have happened in that early-December moment that suddenly vanished without a trace of satisfaction.
The Game That Wasn’t
The stage was set for one of the most anticipated early-season college basketball matchups. No. 1 Gonzaga was going to face No. 2 Baylor on a neutral court on Dec. 5, 2020. There would be no home crowd to shift momentum, and viewers would be able to witness the best form of objectivity. The Bulldogs had to travel almost a thousand miles and two time zones more than the Bears, however. Still, that didn’t matter, nothing could get in the way of this epic fantasy bout. Until something did. Just hours before tipoff, a virus interfered, and the audience was redirected and forced to perilously wait out the journey.
Basketball fans are in the midst of classic literary structure. We’ve attached ourselves to the characters, following them each to see if one will falter, but expecting the ultimate encounter after the stakes have been heightened. The pacing of the season has created change, conflict, twists, and exponential tension, and we’re left with one thing: hope.
Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few told NBC Sports, “The update is, like it is all year, you just play it by ear. Scott (Drew, Baylor Coach) and I talk, and it gets complicated as you get into league. We’re flexible and ready, and I think a lot of people I’m talking to are flexible and ready, so we’re all in that mode right now.”
And now, one of our main characters is appeasing said hope. At this point, however, do we want anything less than the game to be for the National Championship? Some may wish to spoil our happy ending.
Threats to the Hierarchy
Just like in fiction, and even more so in life, nothing is certain. As we watch our heroes fight through their respective battles to provide us with the entertaining climax we all yearn for, there are some antagonists that may spiral our prediction. Both should be wary of cougars, raiders, eagles, wolverines, elephants, doppelgangers, and whatever lurks in the western mountains.
If you don’t want to look into things: Houston, Texas Tech, Winthrop, Michigan, Alabama, Drake, and someone from the Mountain West Conference.
The journey will only become harder for Baylor and Gonzaga. We couldn’t ask for more.
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