This was a potential Final Four matchup earlier in the year, but after a slow finish to the season and some injuries, Villanova moved to a 5-seed.
However, seeds don’t matter anymore, as Baylor and Villanova are in the same situation, battling in the Sweet 16 with a spot in the Elite 8 on the line. Baylor was an early -6.5 point favorite with an over/under of 140.5.
For the most part, Baylor looks to be playing its best basketball since its February COVID pause. The Bears went 11-for-33 from deep in their first game and then 8-for-17 in the win against Wisconsin.
Even though the Badgers forced them off the three-point line, they still made a good percentage of shots and scored at will around the paint. The main reason Baylor has one of the most-efficient offenses in the country is because it ranks first in three-point percentage, making 41.5% of looks for the season.
That’s not a great stat for Villanova, as it’s below average in stopping the three, ranking ninth in the Big East out of 11 teams. Even if the Wildcats prevent the three, they don’t have a rim protector and the main reason they rate above average defensively is because they grab defensive boards and don’t commit too many fouls.
The best route for a ‘Nova upset is if Baylor misses shots and isn’t able to grab offensive boards despite being one of the best in the country at doing so.
The other part to this game is that it’s a major step up in competition for Villanova, which hasn’t beaten a major-conference team without point guard Collin Gillespie.
There’s no doubt the Wildcats have been great in their two tournament games, but it’s not like they ran Winthrop off the court, and they handled North Texas because they went 15-of-30 from deep.
They’re full of shooters as always under Jay Wright, but they can’t expect that kind of production behind the line again even though Baylor’s three-point defense is below average.
The Bears rank better in most defensive categories, though there’s one stat that could decide this game, especially without Gillespie. Villanova hasn’t had a problem turning it over the first two games, as it ranks first in the country in that area, but Baylor is third in the country in turnover percentage forced. Without Gillespie, there’s a chance it becomes a problem for Villanova.
As for the matchups, these teams are pretty even overall with the main difference being that Villanova is using a slew of guys to replace Gillespie and none of them are consistent scorers. Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell all average more than 14 points per game for Baylor, with all of them making close to 40% of their threes.
Butler is the go-to scorer, but all three are capable of leading the team. No one else really stands out on the offensive end unless Matthew Mayer catches fire from deep, but they have guys who do the dirty work and score when needed, like Adam Flagler, Mark Vital and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua.
The most important thing for the Baylor bigs in this game will be containing Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who might be the best player in this matchup. He’s a 6-9 forward who can play as the five man in this system but also bring the ball up the court if needed, averaging 16 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest.
Baylor will likely use a variety of bodies on him in addition to a variety of defenses. Otherwise, the Wildcats need both Justin Moore and Jermaine Samuels to keep scoring, as those two are the team’s only other consistent scorers at this point. Sure, it’d be nice if Caleb Daniels or Bryan Antoine hit a few more threes, but they’ll still need their three main guys to hit their usual numbers.
Villanova has looked normal without Gillespie, but that could change against what has been one of the top two teams in the country all season. If Baylor can defend the three-point line, it’ll be hard for Villanova to get buckets unless they find a way to carve things up cutting in the paint.
On the other end, the Bears also have an edge due to their depth and variety of options. With Gillespie, these teams would be almost even, but without him, Baylor gets the edge.
Our Pick – Villanova +7.5