#1 Baylor vs. #2 Houston
Saturday, April 3rd 4:14 PM CT, CBS
Well this will be a one track column, folks, as the 1 seed Baylor (26-2) men’s basketball team are the only Big 12 team, men’s or women’s, that is still alive in either NCAA tournament (although, of course, I’m sure most of us believe the women should still be playing after a terrible no-call against UConn). To recap the journey to this historic moment, Baylor defeated 16 seed Hartford in the first round with only minor issues early in the game. From there, they took out 9 seed Wisconsin in a game they controlled wire-to-wire. In the Sweet Sixteen, Baylor grinded past 5 seed Villanova is a defensive slugfest. Finally, Baylor took down 3 seed Arkansas in another game that they controlled from start to finish. The Bears really looked to be back in peak form in their win over Arkansas and that win earned them another week of preparation to continue grinding toward midseason form, if not beyond.
The Bears take on 2 seed Houston (28-3). The Cougars’ path to the Final Four saw them playing zero (yes, zero) single digit seeds. They defeated 15 seed Cleveland State, then 10 seed Rutgers. In the Sweet Sixteen they took down 11 seed Syracuse, followed by an Elite Eight win over 12 seed Oregon State to make the Final Four. And even though Houston certainly had the much easier path to the Final Four, at least by seeds, they still struggled more than Baylor—only defeating Rutgers by 3 and Oregon State by 6. Baylor’s closest game of the entire tournament so far was a 9 point win over Arkansas. So just in terms of eye test, Baylor looks to be in a good spot as Houston is probably the weakest in terms of recent play of the Final Four teams.
Kendall has posted a highly in-depth preview which I generally agree with (although I think he might be slightly overvaluing Houston for the reasons above). So instead of rehashing those points, let’s talk about what Baylor making the Final Four means for the Big 12 conference (hint: $$$). The NCAA actually has a fairly unique system for how it distributes money to teams in the tournament. They use units, where each unit is worth about $1.67 million to the conference the team plays for, paid out over 6 years. Each team that makes the tournament earns one unit just for being there. From there, teams earn another unit for each round they advance up until the Final Four (no extra unit is given out for making the championship). So in essence, just by Baylor making a run to the Final Four, the Bears have single-handedly earned the Big 12 $8.33 million which will then be distributed to member schools. I’m sure we can expect a thank you letter from the rest of the Big 12 member institutions shortly (sarcasm).
On the topic of money, let’s talk betting line: Baylor is favored over Houston by 5 points. Kendall has Baylor winning, but Houston covering the spread with a 64-60 game. I agree that the game will be single digits, but I believe Baylor will cover the spread by two or three points given the way both teams are playing entering the final weekend of the college basketball season.