The South Region’s representative in the Final Four will be decided Monday night when the no. 1 Baylor Bears take on the no. 3 Arkansas Razorbacks. The game is at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, with the Bears favored by seven points with the over/under set at 148.5 points.
The Razorbacks have personified the “survive and advance” mantra thus far. It started with overcoming an early deficit against Colgate in the First Round. The Hogs have since won a pair of two-point games against Texas Tech and Oral Roberts. Missed shots by their opponent in the closing seconds in both games could have changed the outcome. But now Arkansas is one game away from its first Final Four appearance since 1995.
Meanwhile, the Bears are one win away from going to the Final Four for the first time since 1950. Baylor has had an easier time than Arkansas, beating all three opponents in the NCAA Tournament by double figures. However, the Bears trailed Villanova at halftime in the Sweet 16 and had to be at their best in the second half to reach the Elite Eight.
The silver lining for Baylor in the Sweet 16 is that the Bears were able to win with a backup plan. In a rare showing, Baylor was just 3 for 19 from the three-point range against Villanova. In the second half, they all but abandoned the outside shot and started working the interior. Davion Mitchell excelled in that area, scoring 14 points without making a three-point shot, while Adam Flagler saved the day off the bench with a team-high 16 points.
However, the Bears will likely need to get back to their bread and butter in the Elite Eight. The Arkansas guards are bigger and more athletic than Villanova’s backcourt. Getting to the basket in the half-court may not be as easy. It’s also worth noting that both Jared Butler and MaCio Teague scored in single digits against Villanova, with Baylor managing just 23 points in the first half. Against Arkansas, the Bears may not be able to survive if they don’t play their best game for 40 minutes.
The Hogs have to feel good about themselves after winning 12 of their last 13 games overall and pulling out a pair of close games. Much like Baylor, they did a better job of attacking the basket on Saturday night after trailing at the half. Ultimately, it was senior Jalen Tate who pulled them out of the fire with 22 points. Tate scored four points or less in four of his last five games before the tournament. But he’s now averaging 15.7 points and four assists per game during the Big Dance.
Of course, Tate is typically just a supporting player for the Razorbacks. Freshman Moses Moody has been the team’s best scorer all season, while senior Justin Smith has delivered two double-doubles in three tournament games. While the Hogs aren’t getting much help from their bench during the tournament, the quartet of Tate, Moody, Smith, and JD Notae provides plenty of firepower.
Lucky Number Seven
Baylor is yet to play its best during the tournament, but conventional wisdom says that’s bound to happen sooner or later. The Bears are unlikely to have another poor shooting game, which will put pressure on the Razorbacks to keep up in a shootout. Ultimately, Baylor has better guards and a deeper contingent of scorers. Look for Baylor to pull away late and cover the 7-point spread.
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