The Gonzaga Bulldogs will look to secure a spot in the Sweet 16 for the fifth consecutive season when they play the Baylor Bears on Saturday. The top-seeded Bulldogs are 13-point favorites over Baylor, the 9-seed in the West Region.
Baylor surprised many by getting to the Round of 32. The Bears knocked off Syracuse Thursday by shooting lights out against the Orange’s patented 2-3 zone. Baylor shot 54% from the field and made 16 of their 34 3-point attempts to outscore Syracuse 78-69, putting them one win away from reaching the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga had the kind of easy first-round game that’s expected of 1 seeds. The Bulldogs led Fairleigh Dickson 53-17 at halftime and coasted in the second half to an 87-49 win. After losing the finals of the West Coast Conference Tournament, Gonzaga’s offense got right back on track, shooting 53% from the field and 43% from 3-point range.
Back to Full Strength
Junior forward Killian Tillie was a big part of Gonzaga’s tournament run last season, and despite missing most of the regular season with an injury, he’s been back with the Bulldogs during the postseason. Tillie played 18 minutes on Thursday, the most minutes he’s played since late January. More importantly, he shot 7 of 8 from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers, totaling a season-high 17 points, which is a great sign for the Zags moving forward.
A healthy Tillie puts Gonzaga at full strength, giving them an impressive amount of frontcourt depth Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, the team’s leading scorers. That trio of big men could be vital on Saturday against a Baylor team that’s lacking in size. Gonzaga’s guards shouldn’t be overlooked, but the Bulldogs have the size and physicality to dominate a team like Baylor inside behind Hachimura, Clarke, and Tillie.
While the Bears are surprisingly good on the offensive glass for a team without a lot of frontcourt size, their best chance to advance is to stay hot shooting the ball. Senior Makai Mason went through a shooting slump late in the season but is 8 for 18 from deep between Baylor’s one Big 12 Tournament game and Thursday’s win over Syracuse. The trio of Jared Butler, King McClure, and Devonte Bandoo join Mason in shooting over 35% from the perimeter, giving the Bulldogs a lot of shooters that need to be covered defensively, including some weapons coming off the bench.
Of course, Gonzaga’s defense will give the Bears a completely different look than the one they saw Thursday against Syracuse. As mentioned, the Bulldogs have plenty of size inside, but they also have big guards and will know to run Baylor’s shooters off the 3-point line. Ultimately, the Bears will have to work a little harder to get open shots against Gonzaga’s defense than they did against the Syracuse zone.
Keep the Ball Rolling
Baylor has plenty of good shooters, but they don’t have elite shooters. That makes it a little less likely that they’ll replicate Thursday’s 3-point shooting performance against Gonzaga. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs found their groove on Thursday and should have no problem keeping it going against Baylor, especially with their size advantage inside. Bet on Gonzaga covering the 13-point spread against the Bears.