Creighton coach Greg McDermott cringed when he glanced at a halftime box score.
The Bluejays held Gonzaga first-team All-American Corey Kispert to two first-half points on Sunday, yet they still trailed by 10.
“There’s just so many ways that they can beat you,” McDermott lamented.
This is the pick-your-poison challenge that Gonzaga poses. With a patient, unselfish approach, three of the 15 best players in college basketball and a wealth of complementary talent, the Zags always seem to have an answer no matter what opponents try to take away.
Gonzaga’s 83-65 rout of Creighton was its 26th consecutive victory by a double-digit margin. Only West Virginia has come within nine or fewer points of the Zags this season, and that was on a night that future top-five draft pick Jalen Suggs injured his ankle and tallied only four points.
The question that looms over the Elite Eight is whether any remaining team can keep Gonzaga from capturing its first national title in historic fashion. The Zags now are three victories away from becoming college basketball’s first undefeated national champs since Bob Knight’s 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.
Who’s the biggest threat left to Gonzaga? Yahoo Sports ranked the remaining Elite Eight teams from most to least likely to topple the Zags.
1. Baylor (25-2)
In early December, a highly anticipated showdown between Gonzaga and Baylor was called off because of COVID-19 issues within the Zags' program. Four months later, this remains the best potential national title game matchup that college basketball can produce this season. Baylor has a lot of the ingredients needed to push Gonzaga, from an airtight defense, to guards who can attack off the dribble, to the mental toughness not to wilt in the face of a deficit. You saw a glimpse of what makes Baylor special on Saturday when the Bears shot 3-for-19 from behind the arc and still pulled away from Villanova down the stretch. And two days later, it was Baylor's offensive firepower on display as the Bears shot lights-out from behind the arc against Arkansas and Davion Mitchell showcased his burst getting to the rim.
2. USC (25-7)
One of the biggest threats to Gonzaga might be the opponent standing between the Zags and a return to the Final Four. USC is long, freakishly athletic and peaking at exactly the right time. Less than a week after handing Kansas its worst-ever NCAA tournament loss, USC stifled an Oregon team coming off a one-sided win of its own. The 82-68 final margin doesn’t tell the full story of the Trojans’ dominance nearly as well as this emphatic Evan Mobley dunk does. USC can’t match Gonzaga’s backcourt, but the Zags also don’t boast a presence like Mobley in their frontcourt or four starters 6-foot-7 or taller. Tuesday’s game is a matchup of the two best NBA prospects left in the NCAA tournament and of the nation’s No. 1 two-point field goal percentage offense and defense. Cancel your other plans. This should be fun.
3. Michigan (23-4)
At the start of the NCAA tournament, it was fair to wonder if the loss of injured forward Isaiah Livers removed Michigan from national title contention. Since then, the Wolverines have emphatically answered that question by dismantling Florida State and staving off an upset bid from talented LSU. Michigan plays hard, shares the ball and has the discipline to follow a game plan. The Wolverines could slow a game down, work the ball inside and try to get Drew Timme into foul trouble. Where Michigan would be at a big disadvantage would be its guard play. Could 5-foot-11 Mike Smith and 6-foot Eli Brooks do much to limit Gonzaga’s array of bigger backcourt weapons?
4. Houston (28-3)
On Monday night, Houston became the first team to advance to the Final Four without defeating even one single-digit seed. The Cougars faced only one current AP Top 25 team all season, defeating Texas Tech four months ago. By no means should Houston apologize for beating the teams on its schedule, but it's fair to question if the Cougars' favorable path prepared them for what lies ahead. The second best team they've beaten is ... Rutgers? Memphis? They haven't seen anything like Gonzaga all season. Houston would be able to throw a bunch of capable perimeter defenders at Gonzaga and limit transition chances, but would the Cougars be able to score enough? They rely heavily on second-chance points, something that hasn’t been easy to come by against the Zags.
5. UCLA (21-9)
UCLA lost its top incoming freshman to the G League, its leading returning scorer to a knee injury and its most athletic big man to a leave of absence for personal reasons. In spite of all that, Mick Cronin has the Bruins one win away from the program’s first Final Four in 13 years. The mental toughness that UCLA showed in its overtime victory over second-seeded Alabama on Sunday night was a reflection of its coach. The Bruins never flinched after surrendering a game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation, outscoring the favored Tide by 10 in overtime. That resilience would be useful against Gonzaga, but UCLA would be outmanned all over the floor. Were a rematch of the famed Adam Morrison game to happen, the Bruins would this time be a double-digit underdog.
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