April 16, 2021

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There have been some thrilling championship games in men’s college basketball this century. The Kansas-Memphis clash in 2008, Duke-Butler in 2010, and Villanova-North Carolina in 2016 are all classics. But they didn’t necessarily have a season’s worth of anticipation behind them like Monday night’s title game between Gonzaga and Baylor does. The last time two teams were on such an obvious collision course was in 2005 when Illinois met North Carolina in the final.

Pretty much from the get-go, college basketball analysts pegged Baylor and Gonzaga as the two best teams in the country, and for a good chunk of the season both teams were undefeated. Gonzaga, the tournament’s top overall seed, remains that way and is looking to become the first Division I men’s team to cap a perfect season since 1976. Baylor wound up losing twice while getting back into gear after a long COVID-19-related pause, but the Bears still wound up the tournament’s second No. 1 seed, and they’ve looked every bit the part so far.

Gonzaga has also lived up to expectations, blitzing through their first four tournament games before UCLA gave them a real scare in their Final Four matchup on Saturday night. Their fans would probably have preferred another blowout, but it’s not unfair to wonder whether the Bulldogs, who had played in only one game decided by single digits all year (in early December), needed a true test before meeting Baylor.

Gonzaga and Baylor were actually supposed to play earlier in the season, only for the game to be canceled because of COVID-19. It felt like a letdown at the time, but things have a funny way of working out in the end. Tim O’Donnell

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