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Gonzaga vs. Baylor: NCAA Tournament championship game loaded with possible NBA Draft prospects

All season long in college basketball it has been Gonzaga, Baylor and everyone else. They were preseason No. 1 and No. 2. They were the only undefeated teams left standing in college hoops (until Baylor stumbled on Feb. 27). And now, they are the only teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament field.

You could point to a number of different reasons for why these two are now vying for a national championship on Monday night — the coaching, the schemes, the experience, maybe a few lucky bracket breaks — but Charles Barkley summed it up Saturday on CBS.

“A lot of teams have Jims and Jims. And a lot of teams have Joes,” he said, referring to the quote about the importance of valuing good players over everything else. “Baylor and Gonzaga are the only two teams in the tournament with Jims and Joes.”

Barkley, as ever, is right. Gonzaga and Baylor have pros all over the court. Monday night’s title game could feature eight NBA Draft picks in the 2021 cycle alone and there are, by my count entering Monday, five of them with realistic first-round upside. That means 16.7% of the first round this year could be comprised of players in Monday’s game. That would be more blue-chip talent in the title game than the last time the Zags were in the championship in 2017 and as much talent as the famous Wisconsin-Duke title game in 2015 that was responsible for producing five first-rounders. That doesn’t even include future drafts, which given the makeup of both teams likely increases that number.

Now, there will inevitably be a big audience for the game Monday despite this talent rush — it’s the national stinkin’ championship — but this game has the eyes of NBA fans and scouts alike for a reason. So here’s your rooting guide to follow accordingly, with an estimation for where we have each player projected in the draft if they declare this spring.

Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga

Hitting the buzzer-beater against UCLA in the Final Four to send his No. 1 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs to their second-ever title game appearance was a highlight for the ages. But for Suggs, the bank-shot winner wasn’t the play that highlighted his pro prospects best from that game. No, that play came late in the second half. With the game tied at 70, Suggs recovered for an incredible chase-down block at the rim, recovered the rebound off a scramble and then at full speed delivered a dime from distance one-handed to a cutting Drew Timme that had to be on the money … and was. 

“He’s a hell of a player,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “He’s electric, especially when you get him out in transition. To make that pass to Timme — when I saw him sizing it up, I was not thinking it was going to be one of his greatest decisions he’s ever had. But he’s got a knack for fitting things into tight windows.”

Suggs’ competitive drive and moxie has really impressed scouts all season. And while he’s not the leading scorer for this undefeated Gonzaga team, he has acquitted himself nicely as a bona fide top-five prospect because of his passing, vision, shot-making and — cliche as it sounds — “it” factor. Teams are going to be itching to make him their franchise point guard in the coming months.

“He’s just got this magical aura about him,” Few said of Suggs.

A year ago at this time, Corey Kispert was barely on the NBA Draft radar. But the 6-foot-7 senior has flashed all the skill and shooting you’d want from a scoring specialist at the next level. He rates in the 97th percentile as a spot-up shooter on the season and is hitting 44.5% from 3-point range on the year. With a quick release and a reliable, repeatable motion, there’s going to be a spot on an NBA roster for Kispert for a long time.

There is no one in Monday night’s title game whose NBA Draft stock has ascending quicker than Davion Mitchell’s. He has developed over the last month into Baylor’s most important player. And it’s not just because of his defense, either, though to be clear: winning Naismith Defensive Player of the Year honors certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s his offense that’s been nails as well. He has the electric burst of a souped-up Tesla and the ability to blow by defenders off the bounce and finish with skill around the rim in ways that are special.

Against UCLA in the Final Four, Mitchell posted 11 assists and zero turnovers, becoming the first player in a Final Four since 1987 to reach double figures in assists while committing no turnovers.

“He’s a two-way player,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said on Saturday. “He really got going at the end of the half. That’s what makes him so good. Defensive Player of the Year. But then on the offensive end, he can score it and he can create for others.”

Baylor’s leading scorer in the regular-season and postseason, Jared Butler is a sound, savvy combo guard who can do a little of everything. Great handle, great feel, and oh: he’s hitting a career-high 41.5% from 3-point range on a Bears team that leads the country in 3-point shooting. Butler doesn’t have the lottery potential his backcourt teammate does, but he’s nonetheless got solid pro prospects and is solidly on the first-round radar. For winning teams in the back half of the first round he could be an interesting second-unit guard because of his experience and shooting ability.

When Gonzaga starts slow or goes through cold spells, Joel Ayayi has during the course of the season been a sparkplug, draining 3-pointers when necessary and making plays on defense with his length. Though his role is not as a top option but more as a shoot-when-open off-ball guard, it shouldn’t take the shine off his potential in the NBA; in fact it should highlight his ability to play and affect the game off the ball. A talented 6-5 guard who has some real chops with the ball in his hands, he’s made incremental improvement every season as a shooter and as a junior he’s making a career-best 39.4% from 3-point range.

“We didn’t quite have the rhythm that we normally had, and [Ayayi] did a great job of stepping up and just making big plays,” Few said Saturday of Gonzaga’s sluggish start. “You could tell he was feeling good about his stroke, and he was hunting it a little bit.”

  • CBS Sports draft range projection: 51-70 

There is some very real intrigue surrounding mulleted Matthew Mayer and, based off my intel, it’s not just fascination surrounding his hairdo. First, a huge reason is because he’s 6-9 and has a smooth stroke to shoot over defenders. The second reason is because he’s hitting on 40% of his 3-point shots this season. The third reason is because Mayer has flashed some special stuff beyond just being a marksman. He reads defenses well and is a smart cutter but he can also carve you up with the ball in his hands. He may be a longer-term prospect — some of the potential has come only in flashes because Baylor is so loaded and his role is not as big as some of his star teammates — but his size and skill makes him one to watch. He is a potential NBA Draft pick if he declares this offseason.

Drew Timme, Gonzaga

  • CBS Sports draft range projection: 51-70

During Gonzaga’s march to the national title game, Timme has been far and away the team’s most important and productive player. He’s a tour de force inside the arc who leads their vaunted 2-point attack, which is on pace to be the best since Princeton in 1977. Timme has nimble footwork in the post and some old-school style to his game that is accentuated by his incredible mustache and the celebration that accompanies the look. But it has been impressive how he’s managed to be this productive against great defensive bigs. Timme went for 23 points, five rebounds and three steals against USC and potential No. 1 pick Evan Mobley in the Elite Eight, then followed it up with 25 points Saturday banging against Bruins big man Cody Riley.

  • CBS Sports draft range projection: 60-75

Over the last month in big spots, it has been Macio Teague — not Davion Mitchell or Jared Butler — who has had the most blow-up performances for Baylor. There was his 35-point performance against Texas Tech on Feb. 7. There was his 24-point outing against Kansas State the game after that. Then there were 22-point showcases against Hartford and Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament. A former UNC Asheville standout, Teague over the last few years has blossomed as a prospect because his steady shot, high-level feel for the game and role-player potential at the NBA level.

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