Sports

March Madness odds, prediction: Gonzaga, Baylor the picks

The memories of a shaky stretch have been pushed aside by a 10-2 record since the Sweet 16 started. UCLA, you are my inspiration.

Gonzaga (-14) over UCLA: Still, the Bruins’ run is a lot flukier than mine. It is part of why this is the biggest Final Four point spread in at least a quarter-century.

The other part is the presence of an historic juggernaut with double-digit wins in 27 straight games.

Despite laying large lines in each of its past four games, Gonzaga has covered each NCAA Tournament spread. In its most recent matchup, USC was widely labeled a legitimate threat because of its defense, length and potential No. 1-overall NBA draft pick Evan Mobley.

The Bulldogs ended the suspense within a few minutes, displaying their brilliance and efficiency on both ends of the court. Jalen Suggs showed he should be the top pick in the draft and Drew Timme continued his recent tear, averaging 25 points and eight rebounds, while shooting over 64 percent from the field in the past three games.

If Timme could embarrass Mobley, the undersized Bruins have no chance to contain Gonzaga’s big man. If UCLA tries to slow the pace like USC did (or Virginia attempted earlier this season), the Zags will shrug and sprint past them anyway.

Perhaps if Gonzaga ends up in a close game in the final minutes, the pressure of the undefeated season might end up playing a role, a la 1991 UNLV and 2015 Kentucky. But the Bruins aren’t capable of hanging with the Zags for 35 minutes. If UCLA is down single-digits after 10 minutes, it should be a moral victory.

Baylor (-5.5) over Houston: I hate going all chalk in the semis, but I prefer teams that deserve to be there. Yes, you can only play who is in front of you, but it doesn’t mean you should ignore that the Cougars are the first-ever Final Four team that didn’t play a single-digit seed.

It doesn’t mean you should ignore how they barely snuck past Rutgers and surrendered a 17-point lead to Oregon State. Computers love the Cougars — their defense topped the nation by holding opponents to 37.8 percent shooting from the field — but Houston hasn’t yet faced an elite offense such as Baylor’s.

Houston rarely even has encountered mediocre attacks. This will be the Cougars’ first time all season playing a team among the top 76 in the nation in shooting. This season, its opponents combined to rank 293rd nationally in field-goal percentage.

Houston was fortunate to follow a smooth road to the Final Four, but a challenge unlike any it has seen has arrived. The Bears have the best backcourt and 3-point shooters in the nation, along with a rejuvenated defense, which has propelled them to win each tournament game by at least nine points.

Gonzaga and Baylor will give us the matchup we’ve waited all season to see.

This season: 29-25

2011-20 record: 261-223-9


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