Gonzaga vs. Baylor a Rare, True Championship Matchup of #1 vs #2


For the first time since 2005, when North Carolina defeated Illinois, we have a national championship game that actually features the two best teams in college basketball of that respective season.

Gonzaga was ranked #1 wire to wire this season, with Baylor #2 in the polls most of the time. The Bulldogs and Bears were pretty much on an elevated plain, above the rest of the field, for nearly the entire season. You could have made a case for Michigan and Illinois, who were ranked in the top five during the stretch run of the season, but both were exposed as frauds in the NCAA Tournament.

The same goes for the Big Ten in general, as the conference flopped massively in March Madness. As for the Zags, they’ll enter the game as 4.5 point favorites over Baylor, with a moneyline of -107. The Bears can be had on the ML for -113 and the over/under is set at 159. All of these bets provide a good value in payoff, as the bookies are anticipating a very close game.

Given what transpired on Saturday night, one might think that Baylor is going to totally rout the Zags tonight, but that’s not a good bellwether. Yes, the Big 12 representative of the Final Four did absolutely crush Houston this weekend, while Gonzaga needed overtime and a lucky, half court buzzer beater to escape against a double digit seed.

baylor cheerleading-2015-nfl-mock-draft

That shot, by Jalen Suggs (who is projected to be a top three pick in the NBA Draft), is instantly iconic. Like Christian Laettener in 1992 and Kris Jenkins in 2016, it’s a Mt. Rushmore March Madness moment, and we’ll be seeing that sequence replayed, many times, for decades to come. It could end up being the signature moment of a legendary and historic undefeated run for the West Coast Conference juggernaut.

The NCAA Tournament crowns a champion, but it typically doesn’t determine the best overall team. There is certainly a big difference. In 2005, Illinois needed a miraculous comeback against Arizona in the Elite 8, just to reach the Final Four. Carolina should have been knocked out by Villanova in the tournament’s second weekend that season. However, “survive and advance” is the name of the game, and both somehow did.

Very strange things often happen in March, as it’s single elimination, with six straight wins needed to claim the big prize. An off shooting night, a bad bounce, unfortunate officiating, an unfavorable matchup, a poor game plan, taking an opponent too lightly- any and all of these things can permanently derail the superior team in this tourney.

That’s why it is so rare that we get the two best overall teams in the end, like we will tonight.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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