After a long and tumultuous road to travel, we have arrived. The Final Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament is set. Despite many setbacks and strict protocols to enforce as the world still deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, just four teams are left standing to play for the first national championship in two years. With the field officially set for Saturday, we're going to take a closer look at the remaining teams.
For as chaos-riddled as the first and second weekend of the NCAA Tournament was, the four left in the field -- outside of No. 11 seed UCLA -- were those largely expected to be in the hunt to the end. Two of the four teams are No. 1 seeds (both of which were the top two teams ranked by the committee), and the final team -- No. 2 seed Houston -- was the projected Midwest Regional champion by default after No. 1 seed Illinois ducked out in the second round.
So today, we celebrate one of the final checkpoints of the NCAA Tournament with a closer examination of each of the four still standing. Here's how they got here, who got them here and the odds that they'll go all the way. They have been listed below in the order they were ranked by the selection committee for the tournament.
2021 FINAL FOUR
Saturday, April 3
Lucas Oil Stadium
|5:14 p.m.||(2) Houston vs. (1) Baylor||CBS (watch live)|
|8:34 p.m.||(11) UCLA vs. (1) Gonzaga ||CBS (watch live)|
(1) Gonzaga Bulldogs
West Regional Champion
- Record: 29-0
- Final Four appearances: 2017, 2021
- NCAA titles: None
- NCAA Tournament path: First round -- Def. No. 16 seed Norfolk State 98-55; Second round -- Def. No. 8 seed Oklahoma 87-71; Sweet 16 -- Def. No. 5 seed Creighton 83-65; Elite Eight -- Def. No. 6 seed USC 85-66
- Coach: Mark Few has been Gonzaga's coach since 1999 and built the Bulldogs into a west coast bully. They have made the NCAA Tournament each season he's been in charge and accrued a 35-22 record in the NCAA Tournament during that span.
- Key player: Sharpshooting Corey Kispert is a player of the year finalist but it's Drew Timme and his mustache who get the nod here. Timme is having a monstrous NCAA Tournament averaging 21.2 points and 7.5 rebounds in four games and is coming off a 23 point, five rebound performance against potential No. 1 pick and 7-footer Evan Mobley.
- Key stat: Gonzaga has won an NCAA Division I record 27 consecutive games by double-digits.
- Scouting report: Behind the most lethal 2-point scoring offense in college basketball history, the Zags have talent and depth in ways few title contenders in year's past can rightfully boast of. That charge is led by lottery talents Corey Kispert, a walking flamethrower, and Jalen Suggs, the most competitive freshman in college hoops. But they also have size too in Timme and Anton Watson along with an embarrassment of riches in the backcourt between Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard.
(1) Baylor Bears
South Regional Champion
- Record: 26-2
- Final Four appearances: 1948, 1950, 2021
- NCAA titles: None
- NCAAT Path: First round -- Def. No. 16 seed Hartford; Second round -- Def. No. 9 seed Wisconsin; Sweet 16 -- Def. No. 5 seed Villanova; Elite Eight -- Def. No. 3 seed Arkansas
- Coach: Scott Drew has been the Baylor coach since 2003, where he's amassed a 370-215 overall record. He's taken the Bears to nine NCAA Tournaments where they are 15-8 under his watch that includes three Elite Eight appearances.
- Key player: Davion Mitchell is the third-leading scorer for Baylor but the shooting star that helped key its Elite Eight win over Arkansas, which prompted his coach to call him a "nightmare" and tone-setter on defense. He's averaging 13.5 points, 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game in the NCAA Tournament.
- Key stat: Baylor leads the country this season in team 3-point shooting percentage at 41.1%.
- Scouting report: Baylor opened its season 17-0 before being forced into a three-week COVID pause that threw the team off its groove. It returned with a close Big 12 loss to the conference's last-place team, Iowa State, before taking its first loss of the season. But the Bears are back on the wagon and riding strong as ever in the tournament, with Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and Macio Teague headlining the team's elite guard-heavy roster. They boast the No. 3 offense in adjusted efficiency according to KenPom data and can blow teams away with offensive firepower behind their magnificent 3-point shooting.
(2) Houston Cougars
Midwest Regional Champion
- Record: 28-3
- Final Four appearances: 1967, 1968, 1982, 1983, 1984, 2021
- NCAA titles: None
- NCAAT Path: First round -- Def. No. 15 seed Cleveland State; Second round -- Def. No. 10 seed Rutgers; Sweet 16 -- Def. No. 11 seed Syracuse; Elite Eight -- Def. No. 12 seed Oregon State
- Coach: Kelvin Sampson took over the Houston program in 2014 and had them as a tournament team by year four. He's 167-63 in seven seasons with three NCAA Tournament appearances. In those appearances, the Cougars are 7-3 but had only advanced past the first weekend once before this season.
- Key player: Former five-star recruit and Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes is the driving force behind Houston's top-10 offense. Grimes leads the team in scoring this season and is averaging 18.0 points per game during Houston's Final Four run.
- Key stat: Houston is the first team in NCAA Tournament to advance to the Final Four beating only double-digit seeds.
- Scouting report: The Cougars -- some pun intended -- are mauling teams on the offensive glass. They rank second in offensive rebounding rate according to KenPom data on the season. That has given them second-chance opportunities and extra looks to help widen the margin for error. Take its game against Oregon State in the Elite Eight for example: Houston shot a worse percentage from the field and from 3-point range in the game, but it got 15 more total shots off than the Beavers because it brought down a whopping 19 offensive boards which it converted to 19 second-chance points. The scoring action flows through Grimes, Marcus Sasser and DeJon Jarreau, but Jarreau, Justin Gorham and Fabian White are relentless difference-makers on the glass.
(11) UCLA Bruins
East Regional Champion
- Record: 22-9
- Final Four appearances: 1962, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1980*, 1995, 2006, 2007, 2008
- NCAA titles: 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1995
- NCAA Tournament Path: First Four -- Def. No. 11 seed Michigan State 86-80 (OT); First round -- Def. No. 6 seed BYU 73-62; Second round -- Def. No. 14 seed Abilene Christian 67-47; Sweet 16 -- Def. No. 2 seed Alabama 88-78 (OT); Elite Eight -- Def. No. 1 seed Michigan 51-59.
- Coach: After a 13-season run with Cincinnati, UCLA in 2019 plucked Mick Cronin from the Bearcats to take over the Bruins. Last season they finished second in the Pac-12 race before COVID halted the postseason, going 19-12. This season they're 22-9 and in the Final Four for the first time since 2008.
- Key player: Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang is the name to know. UCLA has a ton of fun players who can put up big numbers, but he's been the Bruins' most reliable offensive weapon all tournament. On a bum ankle, he scored 28 points against Michigan and is averaging 21.6 points per game during the tournament.
- Key stat: UCLA is the second team in NCAA Tournament history to go from the "First Four" to the Final Four, joining VCU, which did so in 2011.
- Scouting report: UCLA's goal is to slow you down and drag you into a fight, where it can then lull you into a battle with skill. Five different players are averaging at least 10 points per game on the season, so this isn't a one-man show with Juzang. It is guard-tilted, however, with Juzang, Jules Bernard, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell comprising most of the offensive production.