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Baylor-Gonzaga: Three Keys and Prediction

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A giant challenge today

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Baylor vs Syracuse Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor takes on Gonzaga at 6:10 today in Salt Lake City, Utah. The game airs on TBS.

Gonzaga is a 91% favorite on FiveThirtyEight and an 85% favorite on KenPom. Most Vegas books have Gonzaga favored by 14.

Three Keys:

1) 3-point shooting: Baylor probably needs to win this area, and possibly by a significant margin. The Bears attempted 65% of their shots from three against Syracuse. They won’t attempt such a high percentage this time, but the three is the great equalizer. A hot day from three, or a cold day from Gonzaga, can help Baylor pull the upset.

2) Slow the game down- St. Mary’s lost to Gonzaga by 46 points and 14 points in the regular season. In the West Coast Conference final, St. Mary’s won by 13. A big reason they won—after their two disastrous performances—is by slowing things down. With fewer possessions, the variance increases. In a smaller sample, wild things can happen. Baylor should try to increase the variance in this one by limiting the number of possessions.

3) Trust the process- John Jakus, one of Baylor’s assistant coaches, was the operations director at Gonzaga through the 2017 season. He’s familiar with Mark Few and the roster. And he’ll help Baylor with the quick turnaround.

The players have done a fantastic job responding to game-plans this season. Gonzaga is likely going to have at least one giant run or stretch where they look unstoppable. Baylor needs to trust the work they’ll do before the game. While I have some thoughts on this game, I have nowhere near the knowledge of Gonzaga’s roster and sets that I’d have about Kansas or Kansas State. I certainly trust the staff and players to put themselves in the best spot to pull the upset.

Prediction:

The KenPom number looks right: Baylor is about an 85% underdog in this one. If you want to argue that number is too low, you might point out that Gonzaga has dominated against some medicore competition. But they really crushed those teams—nobody else was doing that against teams like that—and they beat Duke too.

We have a one game sample though. Baylor will try to make this game ugly, and they’ll probably try to run back a modified version of the St. Mary’s plan.

The world is goofy. Weird and low probability events happen all the time. We didn’t have many upsets the first two days. We have plenty tomorrow. The Bears would lose a seven game series with Gonzaga, but they’ll win the one game battle tomorrow. Baylor wins 70-58.