We wrote last week about how the Pacific-12 Conference landed four teams in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. At that point, the Conference of Champions maximized its opportunities, with USC beating Oregon to advance to the Elite 8, while UCLA upset Alabama, and Oregon State knocked off Loyola-IL to join the Trojans in the national quarterfinals.
Now, Gonzaga has beaten USC, and the Beavers lost to Houston, leaving the Bruins as the last Pac-12 team standing in March Madness—advancing to the Final Four for the 19th time overall with an upset of Michigan. UCLA may not stand a chance against the Bulldogs in the national semifinals, but it’s amazing to see the Bruins get this far after being relegated to the First Four games two weeks ago.
Using our same methodology, this is the way we see the Final Four playing out:
- Gonzaga: 1st in offensive efficiency, 5th in defensive efficiency
- Houston: 7th, 8th
- Baylor: 3rd, 28th
- UCLA: 13th, 45th
It will be a huge miracle if UCLA manages to beat Gonzaga, a team that would be favored to beat the second-best team in America—the Baylor Bears—by more than 8 points on a neutral court. As it is, the Bulldogs should be a 12-point favorite, at least, over the Bruins.
That being said, the Houston Cougars fit the profile of a national champion much more than the Bears do, and those two teams meet in the other national semifinal. Baylor is a slight favorite, even sabermetrically, but do not be surprised if Houston’s ability to play defense stifles the Bears while giving the Cougars the victory.
Baylor fits that profile of an outlier champion, while Gonzaga and Houston fit the profile of a typical champion. UCLA? Fits none of the above, so just getting to the Final Four may be this team’s crowning achievement, especially considering the way the Bulldogs dismantled USC so readily—and the Trojans were a legit contender, based on sabermetric profiling.
Gonzaga is fighting history, too, however, with its 30-0 record as it tries to become the first undefeated men’s national champion since 1976. Just two teams have reached the Final Four without a loss since, but both 1991 UNLV and 2015 Kentucky lost in the national semis. We expect the Bulldogs to get to the final, however.
We will stick with the numbers here and pick Houston to beat Baylor in an “upset”—although the game is legitimately a toss up. After that, we do expect Gonzaga to win it all, as they play both ends of the court with stunning efficiency, no matter who they play. The team also looks like it is on a serious mission.
See you next season … unless UCLA manages to win it all, and then we might come back to celebrate that.