(CBS Local)- Baylor and Scott Drew have developed the unfortunate reputation of being highly ranked and bowing out earlier than expected in the tournament. It's a rep that previously was held by one of our other top seeds, Gonzaga, before the Bulldogs finally broke through to the Final Four in 2017. Is this the year Drew and company do the same?
They are the top seed for the first time in program history. They have an experienced back court featuring two juniors and a senior and are the nation's best team from beyond the arc. Their region is filled with some tough opponents however so the road to a spot in the Final Four won't be easy. Let's take a look at the 16 teams in the region.
No. 1 Baylor
The Bears, along with Gonzaga, were considered to be a tier above the rest of college basketball throughout much of the season. They have the nation's third most efficient offense per Ken Pomeroy and are inside the Top 50 defensively. Their trio of guards, Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell wreaked havoc on both ends of the floor throughout the season. The Bears do make threes at the highest percentage of any team in the country (41.8%) but at times can go cold (6-28 in loss to Oklahoma State in Big 12 tourney). If they hit a cold streak in the tournament, that could mean an early exit.
No. 2 Ohio State
The Buckeyes took the Illini to overtime in the Big Ten title game before finally running out of gas. Duane Washington, E.J. Liddell and Justice Sueing lead the way for an offense that rates 4th in efficiency per Ken Pom. The question is on the other side of the floor where the Buckeyes have given up 71 points per game this season. However, the biggest question facing OSU is the status of forward Kyle Young. The senior does a lot of the dirty work for the Buckeyes and he's currently questionable with a concussion.
No. 3 Arkansas
The Razorbacks were one of the more efficient defensive squads in the country this season, rating 14th in Pomeroy's standings. The top line numbers wouldn't necessarily reflect that as they allow over 70 points per game to opponents but Eric Musselman's group plays at one of the country's highest tempos which sees higher scores as a result. The biggest note here is that the Razorbacks get back freshman forward Jaylin Williams for the tournament. He adds some needed size off the bench. The first round matchup with Colgate makes for a fast-paced affair as the Raiders play at the 25th highest tempo according to Pomeroy.
No. 4 Purdue
The Boilermakers are intriguing. They finished the season on a five game winning streak before falling in overtime to Ohio State in the Big Ten tourney. Efficient on both ends, they're led by senior forward Trevion Williams (15.6 PPG) and freshman guard Jaden Ivey (10.5 PPG). But, outside of those two, they have four guys averaging just below double figures. Routinely rolling out nine deep in the rotation, Matt Painter's group could certainly find their way to the second weekend.
No. 5 Villanova
The Wildcats are missing a huge piece of their team as senior guard Collin Gillespie suffered a knee injury in the first week of March that knocked him out for the season. They've lost each of their games since the injury falling to Providence and Georgetown. Because of that injury, people are already looking at the Wildcats as an upset pick in the first round against Winthrop. That's not to say it's definite, there's still plenty of talent led by forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl but replacing Gillespie's steady hand will be tough.
No. 6 Texas Tech
The Red Raiders finished sixth in the Big 12, but fell just short against eventual conference tournament champion Texas (67-66). They are Top 25 in defensive efficiency and turnovers forced (16.04) and make their opponents grind out possessions in a way similar to Virginia. That makes the first round battle against Utah State an interesting one as the Aggies are eighth in defensive efficiency. That game is likely to be a low-scoring slugfest.
No. 7 Florida
The Gators finished fifth in the SEC despite being without forward Keyontae Johnson since mid-December when he collapsed to the floor during a game against Florida State. Thankfully, Johnson recovered and has been with the team helping as a coach. In his absence, the Gators have seen guard Tre Mann lead the way (16 PPG) with a trio of players right behind him in double figures. Florida is Top 40 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and they guard the three point line well, allowing opponents to connect on just 30.5% of their threes.
No. 8 North Carolina
The Tar Heels finished fifth in the ACC and made it to the ACC Tournament semifinals before falling to Florida State. They're dominant on the glass (43.1 rebounds per game) and are 15th in defensive efficiency. But, they are a poor shooting team connecting on just 31.7% of their threes and 66.8% of their free throws. That's a tough combination to have come tournament time when free throws in particular can make the difference late in a game. Also, their history as an eight seed is not great.
No. 9 Wisconsin
The Badgers finished 6th in the Big Ten and dropped a close game to Iowa in the conference tournament but Pomeroy's ratings like them quite a bit, having them as the 10th best team in the country suggesting that they may be a bit under seeded here. Regardless, this is your typical Wisconsin team that will make you execute in the half court and rarely turn the ball over themselves (8.9 per game). Tough matchup for UNC in Round 1.
No. 10 Virginia Tech
The Hokies finished third in the ACC, but were bounced from the conference tournament by the Tar Heels in the quarterfinals. They have one of the most deliberate tempos in the country (293rd in Ken Pom) but are solid offensively (Top 55). Junior forward Keve Aluma leads the way with 15.6 points and 8 rebounds per game. The transfer from Wofford has tournament experience from 2019 when the Terriers knocked off Seton Hall and fought Kentucky to a close loss.
No. 11 Utah State
The Aggies finished third in the Mountain West thanks to a defense that stymied opponents. Opposing teams shot just 38.9% from the field (9th DI) and 33.1% from three while blocking an average of 4.9 shots per game. That's mostly thanks to 7-foot center Neemias Queta who blocked 3.2 per game on his own. The junior from Portugal averaged a double double this season (15 PPG 10 RPG) and is a handful inside. How Texas Tech matches his size will be interesting to watch.
No. 12 Winthrop
The Eagles are going to be a popular upset pick because of the injury situation for Villanova. They rolled through the Big South, losing just one game all season and they feature a balanced attack of four players all averaging double figures. They're particularly good at picking up steals (7.8 per game) and getting out in transition. They play at a breakneck pace (11th in KenPom's Adjusted Tempo rating).
No. 13 North Texas
The Mean Green are back dancing for the first time since 2010 and their first as a member of Conference USA. They'll slow the game down and force opponents to execute in the half court. Four players average ten points or more and are marksmen from deep connecting on 37.6% of their 20 three point attempts per game. Purdue allows opponents to shoot just 31.5% from deep on over 25 attempts per game this season. This will be an interesting battle to watch.
No. 14 Colgate
We touched on this above, but the Raiders play at a fast pace and have filled it up this season (86.3 PPG). Matt Langel's group shoots the three ball well (40.2%) but doesn't rely solely on it (22.5 attempts per game 134th DI). A trio of senior guards lead the team in scoring in Jordan Burns, Jack Ferguson and Nelly Cummings.
No. 15 Oral Roberts
The Golden Eagles return to the tournament for the first time since making three straight appearances from 2006-2008. They finished fourth in the Summit League then had a Cinderella run to the conference title knocking off the top seed South Dakota State in the semis before beating three-seed North Dakota State in the final. They can put up points in a hurry (81.8 per game) but also give them up in bunches (75.8 per game). Max Abmas (24.4 PPG) and Kevin Obanor (18.2 PPG) should give the Buckeyes plenty to think about.
No. 16 Hartford
First time participant in the tournament, welcome to the Hawks who won four games in the America East tournament to earn their spot here. They draw the unenviable task of facing the top seeded Bears in the first round but guards Austin Williams (13.7 PPG 6.2 RPG) and Traci Carter (11.7 PPG and 3.2 RPG) should provide plenty of fun moments against the Bears back court.
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