This is set to be one of the more interesting Games of the opening rounds. Both teams are playing well and are coming out of two of the top conferences. Baylor finished their season winning 10 of their last 12 Games, losing in the Big 12 championship Game, while Nebraska is almost as good at 10-3 in their last 13. Baylor is a small -3.5 point favorite.
The Bears had a rough stretch in the middle of the season going 1-7, but look to be over that skid. In the past month, they’ve swept Kansas State and beat Oklahoma and Texas in the Big 12 Tourney. And that’s just a few of their wins. As seen in their early season wins against Colorado, Dayton and Kentucky, this is a squad that can play with most teams.
The Cornhuskers aren’t really in the same mold, which is why they are the 11-seed. Their best non-Conference win was against Georgia, while also losing to UAB and three other NCAA Tourney teams (at Creighton included). After losing five of their first six Conference Games, Nebraska came around winning at Michigan State, sweeping Indiana and beating Wisconsin in their finale.
Baylor has been so successful lately due to improved cohesion and the emergence of freshman guard Kenny Chery. He’s been averaging over 15 points per Game since mid-February. Chery is joined in the backcOurt by three-point gunner Brady Heslip, who was moved back into the starting lineup after Baylor had a stretch of losses.
In this matchup, the Bears will have the edge on the boards where Nebraska struggles. With guys like Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Royce O’Neale, Baylor should dominate the glass and control the paint. Nebraska’s best rebounders are guards Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields if that says anything. Walter Pitchford and Leslee Smith will have their hands full.
The Game will come down to what Petteway, Shields and Pitchford can do. Baylor has the length and athleticism to stay out on Pitchford, who’s one of Nebraska’s best long-range shooters. The Bears will have trouble with Petteway and Shields though, as both have size on the smaller Chery and Heslip.
If Petteway isn’t hitting his shots or Pitchford can’t get open looks, that might be it for the Cornhuskers because it’s unlikely they get a ton of offensive boards. These teams are at opposite ends of the rebounding spectrum.
It’ll fall to what the x-factors can do for both teams. Baylor will likely win the battle of the bigs, but can Heslip hit his shots and will Chery be able to penetrate? Both teams are playing well, but Baylor has the more complete team.
If Petteway or Shields gets into foul trouble, the Cornhuskers struggle on the offensive end. The same can’t be said about Baylor, who has multiple players that can create for themselves.