Baylor vs. St. Mary’s
The Line: Baylor -4
Even though they are a #3 seed, if either the Baylor Bears or the St. Marys Gaels make it to the Final Four next week, it will have to be considered a Cinderella story. The Bears program looked on the verge of extinction a decade ago and St. Marys is well, if you aren’t a college hoops diehard or a resident of Northern California, you probably couldnt find the Moraga on a map if someone paid you.
While St. Marys is a nice story and a sexy pick after what they did to Villanova in the second round, the fact of the matter is the Gaels only beat two tournament teams all year (Gonzaga and SDSU), and both of those teams lost in the first round of the NCAAs. Add to that the fact that Nova was one of the coldest teams in the country heading into the tournament, and you may have a recipe for a bandwagon that may be a little too full for what is reasonable.
The Bears may have lost six games to tournament teams during the regular season, but they also won six games against the same pedigreed opponents. Having gone through a tough Big 12 regular season, the Bears have proven that they are no fluke. Every team that reaches the Final Four almost always has one gut-check game in the earlier rounds, and for Baylor, I believe that game was against Old Dominion. In the second half, the Bears looked a little out of sorts on the big stage, but they regrouped, forced the ball down low and took control of the game late.
I expect the length and force they exhibited against ODU to be the difference against the Gaels. Many teams in the WCC had difficulty with SMUs Omar Samhan in their first meeting against the (as the great Internet joke goes) kid who looks like he’d wear a t-shirt into a swimming pool. But once they were able to see what he had to bring to the table, teams were able to adjust a little on the second meeting. Expect Scott Drew and his staff to be extremely familiar with what Samhan wants to do and to run a lot of big bodies at him. The Bears have the size down low to slow down SMU on offense, and with guards Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn finding their grove, they should be able to play a second game in Houston for a chance to advance to Indianapolis and shock the world.
Duke vs. Purdue
The Line: Duke -8
Everyone freaked out when the brackets came out. For not being the number one seed, the Duke Blue Devils sure did seem to get the friendliest draw. It got even nicer for them when the Texas A&M Aggies fell in a close game to Purdue in the second round. But one thing should be said for any Coach K team: they do not squander opportunities.
Duke was able to shut down Cal, one of the two best offensive teams in the Pac-10, so dealing with a plodding Purdue team probably does not scare them greatly. The knock on Duke, and one that, granted, is not always valid, is that the Blue Devils are not big enough or tough enough to slug it out with teams from the Big East or Big 10. That can not be said about this seasons version of the Devils, who, in addition to their almost annual collection of great shooters, also have a wealth and depth of size.
They will need those big bodies against a Purdue team that has overachieved without its best player, Robbie Hummel. Even though the Boilermakers without Hummel had not beaten a tournament team all year, they have shown serious grit in making it to the Sweet 16. That story, nice as it is, should come to an abrupt halt against a Duke team that looks to be firing on all cylinders right now.