Kyle Terada / USA TODAY Sports
When No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor meet Saturday in the marquee game of the 2020-21 college basketball season, it will be a rematch of a game from second round of the most recent NCAA Tournament. But there will only be only a few familiar faces on the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis who were there in Salt Lake City for the Bulldogs’ 83-71 victory over the Bears in the 2019 Big Dance.
Gonzaga was a No. 1 seed then and has maintained that level of prestige, even while remaking its roster. Senior forward Corey Kispert is the only player who made significant contributions in the 2019 game who still plays for the Bulldogs. Baylor, meanwhile, has entered the golden age of its program since that loss to the Bulldogs as a No. 9 seed. Jared Butler was a freshman then, while Mark Vital was a sophomore. Now, they are the leaders of a team that spent five weeks at No. 1 last season.
In fact, there is some controversy over who really is No. 1 right now. While the Bulldogs hold the honor in the AP Top 25 poll, the Bears have a narrow edge over Gonzaga in the Coaches Poll. Fortunately, the debate is about to be settled on the court in what should be an excellent early-season showdown.
When: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse in IndianapolisTV: CBS | Live stream: CBSSports.com, CBS Sports App (Free)OTT: CBS Sports App (Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast)
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have impressive early-season wins over Kansas and West Virginia to their credit, and they also soundly dispatched a rebuilding Auburn team in between. Freshman guard Jalen Suggs has provided a tantalizing infusion of athleticism and playmaking ability to an offense that could already score efficiently in a variety of ways. With Suggs and Florida transfer Andrew Nembhard in the fold and offering early contributions to compliment the returning nucleus of Kispert, Joel Ayayi and Drew Timme, this team has five top-flight college players that could be standalone stars on virtually any other team in the country. This team is not yet as deep as last year’s Gonzaga squad, but it is oozing talent.
Baylor: Baylor’s backcourt is probably the best in the country with Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell all back after playing key roles during last year’s 26-4 season. But the X-factor for the Bears is the defensively versatile forward Mark Vital, who at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds is the ultimate utility player capable of guarding nearly any opponent. Contributions from transfer guard Adam Flagler (Presbyterian) and transfer big Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (UNLV) have also been welcome additions so far this season as the Bears have raced out to a 3-0 start highlighted by an 82-69 win over Illinois on Wednesday. The question for Baylor is on the front line, where it must find a way to match up with Timme, who at 6-foot-10 is Gonzaga’s leading scorer so far. Junior big man Flo Thamba will have his hands full and may need some help from Vital and Tchamwa Tchatchoua.
Game prediction, pick
With the proven talent they have and the way have played early in the season, these teams clearly appear to be deserving of their top rankings. But Gonzaga gets the edge because of its advantage in the front court with Timme. Expect the Bulldogs to win a high-scoring affair. Prediction: Gonzaga 89, Baylor 84
Published: 2020-12-05 14:37:41
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