Final Four Preview: (1) Gonzaga vs. (11) UCLA

Lineup notes

UCLA: 

  • The Bruins have had the same starting lineup for most of the last two months: Campbell, Juzang, Bernard, Jaquez, Riley.
  • Mick Cronin, who is a very good basketball coach, has shown a pretty fascinating amount of experimentation with his rotations. Against Michigan, David Singleton (12+ minutes in all of UCLA’s last seven games) and Jaylen Clark (11+ minutes in six of last seven) played a combined 7 minutes, while Kenneth Nwuba, a little-used backup for most of the season, played 21 as Riley got in foul trouble.
  • The real key, as always, centers around how often Cronin can keep the trio of Juzang/Campbell/Jaquez on the court together. After making adjustments for luck and schedule, the team is nearly six points better per 100 possessions when all three are out there together.

Gonzaga:

  • I was honestly mildly surprised to find out Gonzaga has actually altered their starting lineup at all this year, but I forgot that Jalen Suggs missed a couple games and Anton Watson was a starter for the first half of the year. So they made one change and have stuck with it for two months: Suggs, Nembhard, Ayayi, Kispert, Timme.
  • Really, the only intriguing thing here is if Few is forced to pursue bench options beyond Watson (18.8 MPG in NCAAT) and Aaron Cook (12 MPG). Outside of the Norfolk State blowout, no other player on the team has topped 3 minutes of on-court time.
  • Here’s your astounding stat of the day: Gonzaga has actually been outscored when Corey Kispert isn’t in the game (-49 in roughly 900 possessions). When he’s in, however? It’s a blowout: the Bulldogs are +1,341 points in the 3,234 possessions Kispert has played. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Key matchups

Jaime Jaquez, Jr. vs. Corey Kispert. I cannot get enough Jaquez; he is the most ideal mix of Great Basketball Player and I Know You’re Confident Because Anyone With That Facial Hair Is that I’ve ever wanted in the NCAA Tournament. He’s UCLA’s best defender, best driver, and overall best player. Kispert, meanwhile, is merely the best deep-shooting prospect in the nation and can hit from anywhere at any time. Jaquez has to stick on him like glue; otherwise, this will be over quickly.

Johnny Juzang vs. Andrew Nembhard. Do you think that when this game starts, they’ll look at each other and do the Paul Rudd “who would’ve thought?” thing? Juzang and Nembhard played against one another when they were at Kentucky and Florida last year, respectively. Now, Nembhard has to find a way to slow down the white-hot Juzang while being a secondary facilitator on the offensive end. Nembhard’s defense is underrated, and I look forward to seeing if he makes Juzang think twice about taking 17-foot jumpers.

Tyger Campbell vs. Jalen Suggs. My second-favorite player on UCLA goes up against a wonderful prospect in Suggs. Campbell is the second elite mid-range shooter on the roster and the main offensive facilitator; Suggs does the same for Gonzaga, but is unstoppable at the rim if you allow him to get there.

Cody Riley vs. Drew Timme. A heavy advantage to Timme, the odds-on favorite for KenPom Player of the Year right now. But I do want to see if Riley can do anything at all in the post against him.

Three predictions

  1. UCLA allows a team-high in points this Tournament (81 or more);
  2. At least 40% of UCLA shots are in Other Twos territory;
  3. Gonzaga 82, UCLA 68.

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