Why Baylor will make the Final Four…
Because of their incredible guard play, as the Bears’ starting backcourt features potential first round picks Jared Butler, and Davion Mitchell. Plus, scoring guard MaCio Teague can take over games with his shooting. Those three alone combine to average over 47 points a game on just under 50% from the field and 43.7% from behind the arc. Opposing defenses will have such a challenge in limiting the three-headed monster for Baylor. They play tough, physical defense as well, with Butler and Mitchell each averaging two steals a game. Aside from the stars, the No. 1 seeded Bears have strong depth throughout the unit as well. Baylor ranks third in the nation in scoring offense and tenth in assist percentage. They play unselfishly, move the ball well, and can beat teams in transition and in the half court. Great guard play can be the difference during March Madness, and Baylor has that in abundance.
The best non-number one seed…
No. 2 seed Ohio State. Arkansas can put up huge numbers, and Purdue can wear teams down with their physicality, but Ohio State has a tremendous mix of both. Led by sophomore and All Big 10 first team selection EJ Liddell, the Buckeyes have great balance on both sides of the ball. Each of their players has grown to understand their role, and Chris Holtman has led this team to be greater than the sum of its parts. Even without a true superstar or early draft pick, the Buckeyes should be dangerous in this tournament. Liddell is a force, Duane Washington} has been scorching on offense, and role players like [Player: CJ Walker who is a great set up man while Justin Ahrens is one of the best marksmen in the country. Plus, Kyle Young}, who has seemingly been in Columbus forever, is the ultimate hustle and glue guy that is the heart and soul of the team. They have been battle-tested against the best conference in the country, and should be ready for a difficult schedule. Thanks to their balance and depth, look out for the Buckeyes.
Oral Roberts. As potent as the Buckeyes have been, they will have a tough time getting past No. 15 Oral Roberts. The Summit League champs average 11 made threes a game, and feature the nation’s leading scorer, [Player: Max Abmas. Of the seven players with the most minutes, six shoot better than 34% from deep, and their two best players, Abrams and Kevin Obanor shoot better than 43% from behind the arc. They don’t do much else well, but if a couple of players can get going from deep, Oral Roberts could be a tough out, even for a premiere team like Ohio State.
Sweet 16 Sleeper
No. 12 Winthrop. The 23-1 Eagles, and winners of the Big South have some real firepower. This is not just another 12 over five selection, as the Villanova Wildcats are truly vulnerable to losing their opening round matchup. Star Chandler Vaudrin is one of the most versatile players in the country. He averages 12.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game. The 6’7 senior is a valuable weapon for the Eagles, and his dominance could continue against Villanova. The Wildcats are 0-2 since losing senior guard Collin Gillespie. Plus, Winthrop loves to push, and are one of the fastest paced teams in the country, while Villanova is one of the slowest. If Winthrop can force the pace to speed up, Villanova could be in serious trouble. With a victory, Winthrop would play the winner of No. 4 Purdue and No. 13 North Texas. While Purdue’s size could cause some challenges, Winthrop’s balanced scoring and efficiency should give them a real chance to make it to the Sweet 16.
Final Four Sleeper
No. 3 Arkansas. Even as one of the top seeds in the region, the Razorbacks seem to be disregarded as a final four team. They have one of the most potent offenses in the country, ranking seventh in points per game. Moses Moody is one of the most dynamic and athletic freshmen in the nation, and is a likely lottery pick. Justin Smith gives them a physical interior presence, and their frenetic pace can disrupt a slower team’s rhythm and flow. They have a bunch of guys who can attack in transition or in the half court, and even though they have a lower three-point percentage than anyone else in the top ten in points per game, their interior scoring can be similarly effective. For teams that are traveling and playing on new courts, shots from deep don’t always fall. The Razorbacks’ transition buckets and interior focus could give them an advantage on the way to a potential final four.
Top Potential Matchup
No. 1 Baylor vs No. 2 Ohio State. Both teams would need to win their first three games to meet each other in the Elite 8. As fans, we can hope that they find a way to pull out the three consecutive wins, as this matchup would be electric. Baylor’s star guards versus the physical Liddell–who would hit more threes between Ahrens and Matthew Mayer? Can Washington stop Butler, and can Butler stop Washington? There are so many scintillating player matchups, with both teams loaded with talent throughout their rosters. Additionally, there lies the intensity and intrigue of an Elite 8 game between the two top seeds. While this would mean no Cinderella stories prevailed, this matchup would be worth the lack of lower seed upsets. Plus, Scott Drew versus Chris Holtman would be one of the best head coaching matchups that the tournament could provide. This would be one heck of a roller coaster game, and one that would surely be filled with drama, heartbreak, and elation, as one team would punch a well-deserved ticket to the Final Four.
Top First Round Matchup
No. 6 Texas Tech vs. No. 11 Utah State. While serious consideration was given to No. 8 North Carolina vs No. 8 Wisconsin, neither team has much of a chance to get past the second round. On the other hand, the winner of this game could be in line to get hot, pushing them to be the top first round matchup. Either team has a legitimate chance to win, and they contrast each other aggressively. Utah State attacks the offensive glass, ranking 238 spots higher than the Red Raiders in offensive rebounding rate. Conversely, the Utah State Aggies commit significantly more turnovers, ranking 199th national in turnovers per game, while Texas Tech ranks 23rd. Whoever can create extra possessions, whether it be on the offensive glass or through forcing turnovers, will have a significantly higher chance to win the game. The contrast in style, and a game featuring two of the most fun players to watch in Mac McClung and [Neemias Queta], should make this a truly compelling first round matchup.
Roy Williams, North Carolina. There are a bunch of great coaches in this region, but none have yet to come close to the sublime career of Roy Williams. Among his lengthy resume is three national titles, nine Final Fours, 79 NCAA tournament wins, 903 total wins and a .774-win percentage. While he will always be tied to the Tar Heels, Williams started his illustrious career at Kansas, where he became the head coach in 1988. In the years following, Williams has been one of the most consistent coaches in all of college basketball, simultaneously generating stars at the next level, while rewriting the record books at the collegiate level. In addition to the title wins, he has won numerous coaching awards, including the AP Coach of the Year twice, being named to the College Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His Tar Heels may only be an eighth seed this season, but Williams has accomplished significantly more than any other coach in the region, and more than almost any other coach in college basketball history.
Chris Beard, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders’ head coach is just two seasons away from taking his team to the national title game. He has 207 career wins, and a .711-win percentage as well. While he may be less known than some other coaches, he has recently become one of the best in all of college basketball. He has the passion and intensity to light a fire under his team if they are not performing to his standards. He was also the recipient of the AP Coach of the Year Award for his outstanding season in 2019.
Top Five Prospects
1. Moses Moody, Arkansas Razorbacks
The 6’6 freshman guard has been the engine for the No. 3 Razorbacks, and has played well enough to be a top-10 selection in the draft. He is a terrific scorer, averaging over 17 points per game, with an efficient 44% from the field. He is a pure shooter, and has hit two threes a game at just under 38%. Moody can benefit teams that need a scoring punch at the shooting guard or small forward spot, but he can also help defensively. He has the length and athleticism to be a solid defender, and is averaging 1.1 steals a game. He is only 18, and has room to continue growing into an elite option on the perimeter for NBA teams.
2. Jared Butler, Baylor Bears
The AP All-American first team selection should likely hear his name called in the first round of the NBA draft. The defensive menace has developed into one of the most well-rounded players in the country, averaging over 17 points and almost five assists a game. He impacts winning across the court, shooting efficiently both inside and outside the three-point arc. The 6’3 junior is perceived to have a lower ceiling because he is a junior, but he is only 19 years old, and can build on an impressive campaign. He has been a leader for one of the best teams in the country, and has lived up to his defensive reputation, leading the Big 12 in steals per game.
3. Day'Ron Sharpe, North Carolina Tar Heels
The 6’11 bruiser is a throwback interior finisher and defender. Even with limited shooting range and mobility, Sharpe should get looks in the first round for his size, age, and physicality. He averages just under 10 points and eight boards a game. He can inhale rebounds, defend the interior, and has a nice touch near the rim. There is no question that the freshman big man has the talent and potential to be an early selection, even with some teams siding more towards small-ball.
4. Davion Mitchell, Baylor Bears
Mitchell was the best passer in the Big 12, and was 30th in the nation in assists per game. He has elite floor vision and instincts that allow him to make passes that lead to easy buckets. Mitchell also scores adeptly from all over the floor, shooting with tremendous accuracy. He is a wonderful floor-general, that can make everyone around him better. Despite his 6’2 stature, he is also a great defender, averaging 1.96 steals a game. He is another player that could hear his name called in the first round because of his passing, efficiency, and defense.
5. Terrence Shannon Jr., Texas Tech
Shannon Jr. should get selected almost completely on potential rather than current production. The 6’6 sophomore is one of the best athletes in the class, and if he elects to enter this year’s draft should get looks in the late first, early second round with teams believing they can coach him into a solid perimeter player. He has scored well at almost 13 points a game, but has done so while making some poor decisions on when to shoot. Developing confidence and consistency will be the key and a return to Texas Tech is probably advisable. He needs to be a better decision-maker and passer to be a useful NBA player.
Tre Mann, Florida
James Robinson Earl Villanova
Scottie Lewis, Florida
Keve Aluma, Virginia Tech