Baylor earned the No. 2 overall seed, but a few folks are worried about some matchups.
In the NCAA Tournament, anything can happen. No. 1 Virginia lost to a 16 seed the year before winning a title. Kansas has lost as a No. 1 seed without reaching the Finial Four eight times in the last 24 years. The single elimination format creates a ton of variance.
I’ll do more deep-dives in the coming week, but here are my immediate thoughts on Baylor’s draw:
*I’m going to do a Hartford preview, but Baylor should be good enough to beat the No. 192 KenPom team. Hartford played Connecticut close for a while, then lost by 12 to the Huskies. Villanova knocked them off by 34.
*Some people are very afraid of North Carolina. In a sense, I get it. North Carolina has a ton of size. The Tar Heels rank No. 1 in offensive rebounding. With how bad Baylor’s been at defensive rebounding, should we be worried? Well, Baylor’s been 290th since the return. The issue is that offensive rebounding isn’t like passing in football where a bad defense can give up big passing plays all day. There’s a ceiling to how many offensive rebounds a team can grab. Even the best offensive rebounding team can’t grab 70% of its misses. The Tar Heels have a bevy of bad losses, and I think the ACC got in too many teams (though thankfully Louisville didn’t make it). The Tar Heels are a No. 8 seed for a reason. The Bears have too many good guards.
*Wisconsin ranks highly in advanced metrics. The Badgers are No. 10 on KenPom. But Wisconsin doesn’t have great athleticism. If you watched Baylor-Wisconsin in the 2018 CBE, the Badgers have some of the same guys. In the last two months, Wisconsin has wins over Penn State, Northwestern and Nebraska. While Wisconsin played Illinois, Purdue and Iowa close, it went 5-9 to end the season. Baylor’s guards are once again too good for Wisconsin most nights.
*Villanova lost point guard Colin Gillespie. I don’t have faith in them. Jay Wright is awesome. But the Wildcats were bleh after coming back COVID, and then lost to Providence and Georgetown to end the campaign.
*Purdue is good. It has two wins over Ohio State. Trevion Williams is by far the best player the Bears will face in the first three rounds. But the Boilermakers aren’t an overwhelmingly under-seeded team. They’d be a tough matchup, but that’s expected in the second weekend.
*The possible Elite Eight teams are tough but not unbeatable. Ohio State made the Big 10 Championship. It lost four games to end the regular season. Arkansas ranks No. 18 on KenPom. It’s the highest seed No. 3, but the S-curve would normally warrant teams No. 9-12 in that position. I think Kansas, West Virginia and Texas are better, so the Bears lucked out there.
The NCAA Tournament is cruel. The Bears could have a bad shooting night—like they did on Thursday—and find themselves knocked off early. The defense might not return to for; Baylor ranks 190th in adjusted defensive efficiency since returning from COVID-19.
Even with the above paragraph, I like Baylor’s region. Illinois got absolutely jobbed with its opponents. Alabama doesn’t lurk. Loyola of Chicago—a team with two players that played in the Final Four and the No. 9 KenPom ranking—aren’t in this bracket as a No. 8 seed. Baylor avoided weird resume and under-seeded teams like Connecticut. Oklahoma State isn’t in this bracket as a No. 4 seed. Seriously, Illinois should be riotinig.
The Bears could play well and lose with the variance of a single elimination tournament. But this is the team and staff Baylor wanted to make the Final Four for the first time since 1950. FiveThirtyEight gives Baylor a 41% chance to make it, and if you gave me those strong odds in the 16 team South Region, I’d still take the Bears.