Just about through Week 9 of the 2020-21 season, Gonzaga and Baylor emerged as an undisputed top two. With an eye on the NCAA tournament in two months, is one of the top-ranked Bulldogs (14-0, 5-0 WCC) and No. 2 Bears (13-0, 6-0 Big 12) a lock to come out as this year’s national champion? ESPN college basketball analysts Jay Bilas, LaPhonso Ellis and Seth Greenberg answered Saturday morning on College GameDay.
“I’m taking the field, especially this year,” Bilas said. “When another opponent has COVID, they can shake everything up. And who knows exactly what’s going to happen when we get to the NCAA tournament.
“But because of some of the teams … Michigan, Iowa, Villanova — and then I’d also throw Alabama, Houston and also Florida State, Florida State’s an emerging contender as well — I think this year, more than any other, the field is most likely to take the title rather than Gonzaga or Baylor. But it’s a close call.”
The No. 3 Wildcats (9-1, 4-0 Big East), No. 4 Hawkeyes (12-3, 6-2 Big Ten) and No. 7 Wolverines (13-1, 8-1 Big Ten) are chief among a handful of Final Four contenders. From the trio, Ellis explained why Iowa — despite Thursday’s 81-69 loss to Indiana (9-6, 4-4 Big Ten) — stands out.
“I like those two teams, but have to look outside and look at a team that could challenge both of those teams — and that would be Iowa,” Ellis said. “Iowa’s terrific on the offensive end, the most efficient in the nation, and it really starts with (senior center) Luka Garza down in the post — 6-11, 250 pounds. Can score over other shoulder, can step out and knock down the three ball — in which he shoots around 46% from three.
“They surround him by multiple shooters. (Fifth-year senior guard) Bohannon, 38%. (Third-year sophomore guard) CJ Fredrick, 58% from three. (Junior wing Joe) Wieskamp, 46% from three. And not only do they get offensive rebounds, I love the way they mix their defenses … press, back into a zone, multiple zone defenses and they play man as well.”
Greenberg, who included Villanova among his three under-the-radar Final Four teams, echoed an earlier sentiment about the Wildcats after a 76-74 win over Seton Hall (9-6, 6-3 Big East) this past Tuesday.
“Think about a team that had their last game Dec. 23 and then comes out and absolutely plays a very good Seton Hall team and wins — and that’s Villanova,” he said. “I mean, Villanova, think about it — they don’t turn it over, they don’t give you second shots, they shoot over 45% of shots from the three-point line … they’ve got tremendous leadership and maturity. You talk about culture — they play for those who played before. And to me, they’ve got a toughness about them.
“(Sophomore forward) Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is a natural player offensively, defensively. (Senior guard) Collin Gillespie makes good shots. I think this team is connected. They have a toughness about them. My one concern about Villanova — they’ve got to be a little bit better defensively. I’m not sure if they have good protection. They have done a good job of running people off the three-point line. But Villanova, a little bit like Virginia, they don’t beat themselves.”