There were many impressive teams during the first week of the NCAA Tournament, but Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears might’ve turned the most heads, especially after its 30-point dismantling of Creighton Sunday night in San Antonio. On Thursday night in Anaheim, Baylor will try to sdvance to a third Elite Eight in five years, but to do so they’ll have to beat Wisconsin, and the Badgers pose a new set of challenges.
In Baylor’s first two NCAA Tournament games, they faced offenses that were largely built around one guy. After Terran Pettway, Nebraska had just one player that averaged double figures a game, same with Creighton after Doug McDermott. The Bears focused on the stars and let the other guys try to beat them. They couldn’t. For those two teams, it was a great game plan, but it won’t work against Wisconsin.
The Badgers have started the same five players in all 35 of their games. Frank Kaminsky, Ben Brust, Sam Dekker, and Traveon Jackson are averaging more than ten points per game. The fifth starter, Josh Gasser is only putting up nine, but he’s Wisconsin’s best three-point shooter, knocking down close to 46 percent of his 103 attempts. Unlike Nebraska and Creighton, Wisconsin’s offensive attack is balanced. If you dare one of their guys to beat, they will.
Wisconsin has always been panned for being slow, boring, and unathletic. This Badgers team doesn’t put those stereotypes to bed, but watch what they did to an up-tempo, athletic Oregon team on Saturday. They played the Ducks style, ran with them, and beat them. The weaknesses that have held back Wisconsin teams of the past don’t apply to this one, but that doesn’t mean they are unbeatable.
Despite having the best offense of the Bo Ryan era, this Wisconsin team isn’t great defensively. They’re still big, they are still disciplined, but they lack great perimeter defenders. Problem is, Baylor doesn’t have that one slasher that can get to the rim at will, but where the Bears can wreck some havoc is on the glass. Even though they’re big, the Badgers aren’t a great rebounding team. Baylor is, but I don’t think that edge can push them over the top.
After losing eight of ten to start conference play it was an accomplishment for Baylor just to make the NCAA Tournament. Now, here they stand, two wins from a Final Four appearance. Since Texas lost in the Elite Eight in 2008, Baylor is the only program in the state to advance this far. Right now, Scott Drew is the coach of the best program in Texas. I think they can beat Wisconsin on Thursday night in Anaheim, but I expect the Bears to come up short.
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