Gonzaga Takes On Baylor in the N.C.A.A. Men’s Tournament Final
Baylor stands in the way of Gonzaga’s hopes of a championship and an undefeated season. Tipoff is at 9:20 p.m. Eastern. Here’s the latest.,
One critical matchup to keep an eye on in the championship game will involve Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs and Baylor’s Davion Mitchell.
The 6-foot-4 Suggs has accounted for 34 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists in last two games. And his game-winning 3-pointer against U.C.L.A. is already being hailed as one of the most clutch and important shots in tournament history. The Minnesota native is expected to be among the top three picks in this year’s N.B.A. draft.
Suggs figures to be guarded by the 6-2 Mitchell, a Georgia native who averages nearly 2 steals a game along with 14 points and 5.5 assists. Mitchell was named the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year and also was honored as the Most Outstanding Player of the South Region.
“He’s a really good player, he’s really fast. He’s really quick,” Mitchell said. “I’ve just got to know when to pick my spots, and when I can pressure him and when not to pressure him, so I can’t put my teammates in a position where they’ve got to help me out and then leave somebody else open because they can hurt us like that, so my job is just to stay in front of him and make it hard for him.”
Baylor Coach Scott Drew, who is coaching for the program’s first national championship, said he’s looking forward to watching the two go at it.
“It’s a blessing because I get a great seat and watch it,” he said. “And hopefully neither gets in foul trouble because that’s going to be a matchup that everyone will want to watch. Both of them are extremely competitive, both of them are so talented and both of them, the bigger the moment, the better they play.”
Gonzaga faced one of its first real threats of the season in its matchup against U.C.L.A. The Bruins took the Bulldogs into overtime, and their 3-point shooting helped keep them in the game — U.C.L.A. shot 41.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Gonzaga was scheduled to face Baylor in December before the game was canceled because of two positive tests from Gonzaga’s program, including one player. Since then, Coach Mark Few has said the Bulldogs had been prepared to face the Bears at some point in this tournament. The Bears have widely been considered the second best team in men’s basketball for much of the season.
“The way they shoot the ball — I think they’re hitting the 3 better collectively than anyone in the country — and they play off each other so well,” Few said. “They’re just complete.”
This is an area that Baylor can capitalize on tonight as it faces the undefeated Bulldogs. The Bears shoot 3-pointers better than any other team in the country — 41.2 percent — but can’t afford an off night if it expects to challenge Gonzaga the way the Bruins did.
The lawyer overseeing an inquiry into gender inequities at N.C.A.A. championship events insisted Monday that she would act independently of the college sports executives who hired her last month.
The lawyer, Roberta A. Kaplan, has a reputation for pathbreaking legal work — she, for instance, litigated a seminal case against a federal law that excluded same-sex couples in its definition of marriage. But some of women’s basketball’s leading figures have voiced misgivings about her appointment by the N.C.A.A., which has spent the last few weeks responding to a public furor over disparities between its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
“We have a reputation for calling them as we see them,” Kaplan said in an interview on Monday, when she described her firm’s inquiry as “completely independent.”
Mark Emmert, the N.C.A.A. president, said last week that neither he nor the association had any prior history with Kaplan or her firm, Kaplan Hecker & Fink. But he has so far resisted calls, most notably from the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, for a review led by a commission or a lawyer selected by someone outside of N.C.A.A. leadership.
“I’ve got my lawyer in my back pocket, and I know he’s going to do what he needs to do to make me look good,” Dawn Staley, South Carolina’s women’s basketball coach, told Emmert during a videoconference last week. “And I’m not saying that is the case, but whoever is paying the piper, more than likely they’re going to give you what you want to hear.”
Emmert replied that he had confidence in Kaplan’s firm, but that he understood that there was “a perceptional issue.” He did not announce specific steps to try to ease those concerns.
In Monday’s interview, Kaplan declined to detail her financial arrangement with the N.C.A.A., but she said that the association, which has spent tens of millions of dollars on lawyers in recent years, had not capped her firm’s fees. She said the firm is early in its fact-finding stage, and she urged current and former athletes and coaches to contact investigators, who she said would be conducting interviews and town hall meetings in the coming weeks. She said some former coaches had already spoken to people involved in the review.
“The N.C.A.A. itself admits there clearly was a screw-up,” Kaplan said. But, she added, she wanted to review whether the disparities at the basketball tournaments were “just a symptom of a broader problem, which may not even be intentional.”
“It may,” she said, “just be decades-old assumptions about how things operate.”
Kaplan said that she expected her inquiry would be effectively conducted in two phases: the first, which has already begun, will focus on women’s basketball, while the second will examine other championships in other N.C.A.A.-sanctioned sports. She said that she expected the review to conclude by the end of the summer, but she left open the possibility that her inquiry into other sports could take longer.
Her findings and recommendations are expected to be made public.
The N.C.A.A. repeatedly apologized for shortcomings at its women’s tournament in Texas, like a weight room that was lightly stocked in comparison to workout facilities that were made available for the men’s competition. But women’s basketball officials said that the troubles of the last few weeks were part of a sustained history of men’s basketball, which is the N.C.A.A.’s financial lifeblood, being favored over their sport.
When Roy Williams retired last week after 33 seasons as the head coach at North Carolina, there was widespread speculation about who would fill the shoes of a man who won three N.C.A.A. championships at one of the top programs in the country.
That speculation ended Monday, hours before the national championship game, when the school named Hubert Davis, 50, as Williams’s successor. Davis, who helped lead the Tar Heels to the 1991 Final Four and most recently served as Williams’s associate head coach, becomes the first Black head coach in the program’s history.
Davis was set to be formally introduced during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
“I am honored and humbled to be given the opportunity to lead this program,” Davis said in a statement.
“I love this University. I played here, I earned my degree here, I fell in love with my wife here, I got married here, I moved here after I retired from the N.B.A. and I have raised my family here,” he added. “I am proud to lead this team, and I can’t wait for all that comes next.”
Several teams in the Big 12 have also been busy on the coaching carousel. Oklahoma on Friday named former Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser as the successor to Lon Krueger, who retired at 68. Krueger was one of just three coaches (along with Tubby Smith and Rick Pitino) to lead five universities to the N.C.A.A. tournament. Moser, 52, went 188-140 (.573) in 10 seasons at Loyola and led the Ramblers on a surprise run to the Final Four in 2018, with an assist from Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, and then a round of 16 appearance this season.
The Moser news came on the same day Kansas signed Bill Self to a lifetime contract and one day after Texas hired Chris Beard away from Big 12 rival Texas Tech.
Self won a championship in 2008, but Kansas has recently been under N.C.A.A. scrutiny in the wake of the federal government’s investigation into corruption in college basketball. Self’s contract contains a clause that the university will not fire him for cause “due to any infractions matter that involves conduct that occurred on or prior to the date of full execution of this agreement.”
Beard led Texas Tech to the 2019 championship game, where the Red Raiders lost to Virginia. He began his career as a graduate assistant at Texas.
Texas Tech has had several players enter the transfer portal, and it’s possible some of them could follow Beard to Texas.
In the Big East, Marquette replaced the fired Steve Wojciechowski with Shaka Smart, who grew up in Madison, Wis., and has ties to the area. In six seasons at Texas, Smart failed to win an N.C.A.A. tournament game, and this year the No. 3-seeded Longhorns were stunned in the first round by No. 14 seed Abilene Christian.
At DePaul, the school is replacing Dave Leitao with longtime Oregon associate head coach Tony Stubblefield. The Big East will now have six Black head coaches among 11 men’s basketball teams.
Gonzaga is seeking to become the first men’s team to finish unbeaten since Bob Knight’s Indiana club went 32-0 on the way to the 1976 national championship. The Bulldogs are also seeking their first N.C.A.A. title, though they have had plenty of deep tournament runs. They lost in the 2017 title game to a North Carolina team coached by Roy Williams, who announced his retirement on Friday and had three titles in his career.
Coach Scott Drew and Baylor are also seeking their program’s first national championship. The Bears are appearing in the title game for the first time since 1948.
“Amazing, we’ve worked hard through this struggle of a season but we stayed together,” guard Jalen Suggs, a Gonzaga freshman, said in a television interview after draining the game-winning shot in a 93-90 victory over U.C.L.A. late Saturday night.
“I can’t put this one into words, turning dreams into reality and now we get ready for Baylor,” Suggs said. “They’re a tough team.”
Even though Gonzaga has not lost since Feb. 22, 2020, against Brigham Young, the Bears have history on their side. This is just the fifth time since the Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll began in the early 1960s that the teams ranked No. 1 (Gonzaga) and No. 2 (Baylor) will meet in the title game. Each of the previous four games were won by the team ranked second: Cincinnati over Ohio State in 1962, U.C.L.A. over Michigan in 1965, UConn over Duke in 1999 and Duke over Arizona in 2001.
Led by Drew Timme’s 25 points, Gonzaga put up 56 points in the paint against U.C.L.A., and the Bears will have to have an answer for that. Baylor is led by experienced guards and wings, and its frontcourt players Mark Vital and Flo Thamba are solid if not spectacular.
Baylor is led by an all-American junior guard, Jared Butler, who had 17 points in the semifinal rout of Houston, and another junior guard, Davion Mitchell, who dished out 12 assists with 11 points as the Bears won, 78-59. After last year’s tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, both Butler and the senior guard MaCio Teague tested the N.B.A. draft waters but opted to come back for another shot at the title.
“That was one of my goals, and I know some of my teammates’ goals, just to leave a legacy at Baylor, create Baylor as a blue blood,” Butler said.
Larry Bird’s Indiana State team was 33-0 entering the 1979 title game against Magic Johnson and Michigan State.
Michigan State featured not only Johnson, then a sophomore, but also Greg Kelser, a 6-foot-7 forward who was later chosen in the first round of the N.B.A. draft.
“We felt that our zone could affect them,” Johnson said on CBS before the semifinal games. “We double-teamed Larry every chance we got and we were able to pull off the victory,” 75-64.
Bird averaged 28.6 points, 14.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game during his junior season after averaging 30 points as a sophomore and nearly 33 as a freshman. In the national semifinal against DePaul, he made 16 of 19 field-goal attempts and had 16 rebounds and nine assists.
Johnson, like many others in the basketball world, was hoping for a Gonzaga-Baylor final entering the Final Four.
“Gonzaga is such a well-balanced team, they can shoot from the outside, they got great inside players,” he said. “And that’s what we say with Baylor, they were dominant inside as well as outside.
“The best two teams in college basketball were Baylor and Gonzaga all season long.”
Jalen Suggs is expected to be among the top three picks in this year’s draft on July 29.
Only one player in the last decade has won an N.C.A.A. championship and gone on to become the No. 1 pick over all: Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in 2012.
The Oklahoma State freshman point guard Cade Cunningham and the Southern California freshman 7-footer Evan Mobley are expected to be among the top picks along with Suggs, with many mock drafts projecting Cunningham at No. 1.
But Brian Sandifer, the director of the Grassroots Sizzle program for which Suggs played, believes the Minnesota native, 6-foot-4, deserves to be the top pick in part because of his history of winning. As a quarterback for Minnehaha Academy, Suggs’s team went 25-1 and appeared in two state championships, winning one. He was recruited by Ohio State and Notre Dame, among others, to play football.
“Jalen Suggs is the best player in the draft, period,” Sandifer said in a phone interview. “I’ve never wavered from that. If you watch how they play and you do the resume checks on all the kids, Jalen Suggs has won at every level that he’s played, football, basketball, whatever.”