A breakdown of the Final Four matchup between No. 1 Baylor and No. 2 Houston:
This position matches the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, Davion Mitchell of Baylor, against the AAC Defensive Player of the Year, Houston’s DeJon Jarreau. They’re two athletic marvels and high-IQ floor generals in a matchup that will be absolutely fascinating to follow. Mitchell, a third-team Associated Press All-American and is a potential lottery pick, has the bigger name, but Jarreau is a terrific talent, too.
MaCio Teague flies under the radar when it comes to Baylor’s big three. But the efficient Teague is just as vital to the Bears. Just look at his badly needed 22-point outburst in the Elite Eight. Like Teague, Marcus Sasser can get lost among Houston’s other star guards, but his value is clear. When his shot is falling, the Cougars become so much tougher to guard.
A Kansas transfer, AAC Player of the Year Quentin Grimes has become a big-time shotmaker at Houston, averaging 18 points in the tournament and shooting 43.5 percent from 3-point range. Baylor’s best player during the regular season, Jared Butler has struggled in Indianapolis, shooting just 34.6 percent from the field. He hasn’t been the same player as the guy who was an AP first team All-American.
The only things missing will be a helmet and shoulder pads. Otherwise, Houston’s Justin Gorham against Baylor’s Mark Vital will feel like two football linemen looking to put the other on his butt. Neither is overly tall, but both are built like oxes. They’re rebounding dynamos who provide energy and second chances for their respective teams.
Both players are starters in name only. Neither Baylor’s Flo Thamba nor Houston’s Reggie Chaney averages more than 15 minutes per game. When they are in there, their job is to defend, rebound and clean up anything around the rim.
Baylor has size, shooting and scoring punch on its bench, a unit that is capable of flipping momentum, whether it is Adam Flagler on the perimeter, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua in the paint or Matthew Mayer creating mismatch problems as a 6-foot-9 forward with guard skills. Houston’s reserves are capable — Tramon Mark made the play of the tournament for the Cougars with a game-winning three-point play in the comeback over Rutgers, and forwards Fabian White Jr. and Brison Gresham are two-way contributors — but their production pales in comparison.
Two program builders, Houston’s Kelvin Sampson and Baylor’s Scott Drew, have built their teams from the ground up, inheriting programs that were previously irrelevant on the national level and making them into title contenders. Sampson has coached in one Final Four, in 2002 with Oklahoma, giving him the slight edge in experience. But Drew has had Baylor knocking on the door for a while, reaching two Elite Eights, before finally breaking through this year.
This won’t be easy. Houston matches up well with Baylor, the rare team that has the athletes who can defend the big three of Teague, Mitchell and Butler. But the Cougars’ offensive shortcomings that they overcame with their offensive rebounding prowess in the last three games will ultimately prevent the upset.
Baylor 75, Houston 71