Despite falling to Oklahoma State in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament, Baylor has certainly shown it was more than deserving of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
After routing 16th-seeded Hartford 79-55, the Bears easily handled ninth-seeded Wisconsin 76-63.
But the challenge will be much more daunting against fifth-seeded Villanova in the Sweet 16 of the South Region on Saturday.
It will be Baylor’s fifth Sweet 16 appearance in the last 12 years and its first since 2017.
The balanced Bears (24-2) were led by Matthew Mayer with 17 points against the Badgers, while Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell added 16 apiece.
“You’ve got to have depth and you’ve got to have multiple scorers,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “We have a lot of people capable of getting us 20, and it’s not your night every night.”
Baylor’s suffocating defense forced 14 turnovers against a methodical Wisconsin offense and turned them into 16 points. Villanova plays a similar style, so expect the Bears to continue to extend their defense on the perimeter.
“I think it all starts with Davion up front, and then we have guys that are all brought in to try to apply as much ball pressure as possible and make things as difficult as possible,” Drew said. “You’re never going to shut out a great team like Wisconsin, but you just want to make things as difficult as possible.”
Mitchell said Baylor’s success will continue to be anchored by how it performs defensively.
“We really pride ourselves on just making things hard for other teams, giving ball pressure, not making them feel comfortable, making them keep dribbling the ball and not being able to look,” Mitchell said. “I think we definitely are getting back to ourselves.”
Villanova reached the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in the last 20 seasons following a dominating 84-61 win over 13th-seeded North Texas in the second round.
The Wildcats ousted 12th-seeded Winthrop 73-63 in the opening round.
Despite losing co-Big East Player of the Year Collin Gillespie to a torn MCL, Villanova (18-6) has responded with two strong performances in the NCAA Tournament.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl led the way with 18 points while Jermaine Samuels added 15 points and nine rebounds against the Mean Green. Justin Moore scored 15 points and Caleb Daniels had 11.
“We talk a lot about being the best team we can be at the end of the season,” said Samuels, who was a freshman when Villanova won its second national championship in three years in 2018. “We want to prove to each other we’re all in this together, that we want to make plays for each other. I think everybody was going out there to prove that to each other.”
Villanova coach Jay Wright has won two national championships and holds a 30-12 overall mark in the NCAA Tournament with this program. Even without Gillespie, the Wildcats are surging at just the right time.
“Since we got here, Jermaine and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl have done an outstanding job of leading our guys, focusing on attention to detail,” Wright said. “I think those two have been really important to the two games we have played here.”
This much can be expected: Villanova won’t be intimidated by top-seeded Baylor.
“They’re a great team, but we’re looking forward to getting a few more days of practice in to try to get better,” Wright said.
–Field Level Media