1.Baylor vs. 2.Houston
5:14 PM ET on CBS
After a two-year wait, the Final Four is here, and with the State of Texas in the news, it is only fitting that game one is a Lone Star State Showdown. Baylor is in the Final Four for the First Time since 1950, and with a win today they can advance to their first National Championship game since 1948. This season is a culmination of a terrific turnaround led by Scott Drew, who has built this program from nothing to a Big 12 Championship winning team and one looking to make school history. 1984 has been a long time for the Houston Cougars, but that is the last time the Cougars were in the Final Four. Hakeem the Dream and Clyde Drexler aren’t walking through that door, but Kelvin Sampson, a coach who was previously run out of College Basketball entirely, has brought this program into a new era of Cougars basketball. In what should be a gritty game, one Lone Star State team will head to the Championship game.
Baylor is the favorite in this game, the Bears are led by a terrific three-headed guard tandem in Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, and MaCio Teague. Butler is the team’s leading scorer, he’s a good ball-handler that is the team’s best scorer, he can beat you from anywhere on the court. Davion Mitchell is the most important player on this team, he’s the Defensive Player of the year, his nickname is “off-night” and he will take out the other team’s best scorer, on offense he’s a good shooter and has a burst of speed that makes it impossible for defenders to stay in front of him. MaCio Teague’s jump shot looks quite bad, there’s a noticeable hitch in it, that said it goes in. Teague also is a good ball-handler and can score anywhere on the court. Mark Vital is the glue guy on this team, he’s a great defender, a good rebounder, and is the tough guy on this team. Matthew Mayer is 6’9” but comes off the bench and gets buckets, while he’s a sneaky good defender. Adam Flagler can also come in and score, while “Everyday John” and Flo Thamba are the five men on this team, who bring toughness, rebounding, and shot-blocking. This Baylor team has a great eight-man rotation, they play hard, they have a good defensive scheme, and they have five guys that can score 20 points on any given game.
The Houston Cougars come into this game as underdogs, which is just the second time all season that has been the case. It is no doubt that the Cougars have not played a team even close to the level of this Baylor team, but they are still really good and elite on the glass. The Cougars will run a 3-guard, 2-big man attack that will have their guards shooting the ball from all over, and their bigs will crash the glass. Quentin Grimes is the team’s best scorer, he’s an elite shooter, a good ball-handler, and he’s a great rebounder at the guard spot. Marcus Sasser is a good scorer that beats team’s most of the time with threes. Dejon Jarreau is the point guard that sets everything up offensively, he’s a good passer, capable scorer, and the team’s best guard defender. Tramon Mark has hit the two biggest shots of the season, one to beat Memphis from 50 feet away, and his And-One to give Houston the lead against Rutgers, which is why they are in this game, to begin with. Justin Gorham, Fabian White, Reggie Chaney, and Brison Gresham will all attack the glass, get rebounds and putbacks. Houston isn’t going to win this game necessarily by being pretty, but tough and physical play will give Baylor fits.
The Bears have a major advantage offensively, and I would say defensively as well. The Bears have better shooters, better scorers, and more players that can beat you, the point being that the Bears have already had 4 different players lead the team in scoring in this Tournament. For Houston to have a chance, they will have to make this a half-court game. Then they will have to beat the Bears by outrebounding them to death or hitting an unprecedented amount of shots. If Baylor is able to keep the rebound battle to a near-draw, they should be able to force enough turnovers for Houston, get out in transition, and win this game running away. I think this game will be low-scoring in the first half, allowing the Cougars to hang around. In the end, the Bears should start to speed this game up as it goes along, allowing them to run away from Houston in the second half, as they will advance to the National Championship. At the end of the day, Houston has used toughness and physicality to get to this position but at the end of the day that can only get you so far. Baylor is more talented, more skilled and is a better team, it would be hard to imagine Houston winning this one.
Prediction: Baylor 74 Houston 63