Basketball is a long-drawn, high-scoring game – and possibly nothing better could give you that adrenalin-rush than a match, given up for lost, suddenly turning around and reversing the result at the end of the buzzer.
The start of the 2021-22 NCAA Season had much of such drama, with many top-seeded teams unable to justify their ratings against unranked adversaries, except pre-season favourites Gonzaga Bulldogs and Baylor Bears, both of which made it all the way to the finals.
This season talents have sparked quite some interest worldwide, as seen in the NCAA rising stars overview by Vietnamese sportsbook Vwin99.
If the results of the initial matches were any indication, very few favoured teams from the original list of 64 made it to the sweet 16 roll, some of them waylaid by other college teams given less than favourable chances of victory. For the first time in 45 years, for example, Duke and Kentucky did not qualify.
But even the eventual Gonzaga Bulldogs versus Baylor Bears faceoff in the finals was not without its share of drama. The Gonzaga Bulldogs, steered by its long-time, 22nd year head coach Mark Few, whose mentoring reputation was on a downslide after years of lacklustre performance, finished the regular season with a surprising perfect record of 24-0. The Bulldogs achieved success by mercilessly running roughshod over anyone who got in their way, including 2nd ranked Brigham Young University (BYU) and 4th best Saint Mary’s College.
The Bulldogs’ one final victory over the Baylor Bears would have completed a perfect sweep and won them the championship. But this was not meant to be. The Bears played the spoiler’s role with an emphatic 86-70 clincher over the Bulldogs, to win for the first time the much-coveted 2021 NCAA Season.
The Bears were firmly in command for the most part of the game, leading by as much as 20 points at one stage. Rising star Jared Butler, who now wears a Utah Jazz uniform in the NBA, led the assault with 22 points and seven assists. It wasn’t a one-man show though. MaCio Tague contributed 19 points and Davion Micthell added 15. Bulldog Jalen Suggs, now playing for the Orlando Magic in the pro league, took the cudgels for Gonzaga with 22 points.
The Bears were 43.5 percent from the three-point area, while the Bulldogs had a measly 29.4 percent. The Bears were even more ferocious under the net, gobbling up 16 offensive rebounds against only five by the Bulldogs.
It was truly a season of surprises. After all, the 2020 NCAA basketball season was unceremoniously cancelled due to health concerns. The 2021 version would have also been placed in the backburner for the same reason, except that the organizers were more creative in finding ways to ensure that the event was sealed off from the virus. Even if it meant holding all the games only in the state of Indiana for the first time in NCAA history.
Aside from the Bears’ historic first NCAA title, the other big winner of the season is the NCAA itself.
Tournament organizers defied the odds of withdrawals left and right due to health protocols, to successfully hold the competitions and to lay the groundwork for another exciting tournament starting in March this year.