In the odd 2020-21 NCAA Tournament, the Elite Eight has a normal-looking contest. The No.1 seed Baylor faces the No.3 seed Arkansas in the Elite Eight on Monday. In the Sweet Sixteen, Baylor struggled offensively, but came up huge on the defensive end fueling their win. Meanwhile, Arkansas won a thriller against the upset-minded Oral Robert Golden Eagles. Keys to this Elite Eight clash includes the turnover battle and bench production.
First off, Baylor was not efficient against Villanova in the Sweet Sixteen. Baylor leads the country shooting 41.5% from three. Yet, the Bears were 3/19, 15.8%, against Villanova. In addition, ‘Nova is not the greatest perimeter defensive team ranking 239th in opponent three point shooting percentage. Baylor had decent looks from three against Villanova, but just could not knock them down. Against Arkansas, Baylor needs to have a good game from three. Baylor ended up with only 62 points versus Villanova when they typically average 83.8 points on the year. Baylor’s offense leans on their ability from three. Baylor needs to be efficient from three shooting 33%+ against Arkansas.
One thing that saved Baylor against Villanova was their offensive rebounding. The Bears had 13 offensive rebounds leading to 13 more field goal attempts than Villanova. If Baylor has another subpar shooting night against Arkansas, offensive rebounds still could keep them in the game.
Lastly, Baylor’s star player Jared Butler needs to play better. Butler was 4/14 versus Villanova. On the year, Butler is a 47.9% shooter. Also, Butler was 5/16 against Hartford in the Round of 64. Arkansas has fire power on the offensive end. Therefore, Baylor needs Butler to be more efficient and have a good game.
Arkansas had played with fire in this year’s NCAA Tournament. They have trailed by 10+ points at some point in all three games. Obviously, the Razorbacks came back and won those games. However, against a team the caliber of Baylor, Arkansas cannot afford to go down big. Especially when considering Baylor’s ability to force turnovers and they have probably the best guards Arkansas will face this season.
Additionally, Arkansas must take care of the ball against Baylor. Baylor ranks 6th forcing 17.5 turnovers a game. Even more impressive, Villanova and Wisconsin are first and second averaging the least amount of turnovers per game. Still, Baylor forced Villanova into 16 turnovers and Wisconsin into 14. Arkansas had 10, 9 and 10 turnovers in the first three rounds. The Razorbacks have done a great job taking care of the ball, and this must continue.
Also, Arkansas needs better bench scoring versus Baylor. Baylor has two 8+ scorers in Adam Flagler and Matthew Mayer coming off their bench. Also, Mayer had a 17 point game against Wisconsin and Flagler poured in 16 points versus Villanova. Meanwhile, Arkansas only had six bench points in their clash with Oral Roberts. Arkansas could have a tough time scoring against Baylor if they only get scoring from their starters. The Razorbacks likely need to stay close to Baylor in bench points.
Players to Watch
For Baylor, Davion Mitchell has been really good their past two games. Mitchell was everywhere defensively and is averaging 15 in his last two. He will be a big factor in slowing down some Arkansas guards like Moses Moody or Davonte Davis.
Also, Baylor’s star player Butler typically averages 16.9 points. Butler has not played up to his averages in the past three games. MaCio Teague is another Baylor guard that struggled against Villanova. He only had five points, when he averages 16.1 points.
For Arkansas, Jalen Tate is coming off one of his best games of the season. He came up huge towards the end of the Oral Roberts game with multiple clutch buckets and dishes. Tate averages 10.5 points and 3.8 assists, but he had 22 points and six assists against Oral Roberts. Davis is another Arkansas guard that has played great recently. The freshman guard had the game-winning shot versus Oral Roberts and scored 16 points.
Moody, the Arkansas guard, scores 17.1 points per game this year. In contrast, he has struggled in the NCAA Tournament. Against Oral Roberts, Moody shot 4/20. In his past three games, Moody is shooting 35.9% and 23.1% from three. Moody shoots 44.7% and 37.4% from three this year. Maybe Moody is due for a big game and will be fantastic versus Baylor. Arkansas will certainly need the typical high-scoring Moody against a talented Baylor squad.
In an Elite Eight matchup with two teams averaging 80+ points per game, it could be a defensive battle. Both teams certainly have talented scorers, but their star players have slumped recently. Also, Baylor and Arkansas has won mostly from good defensive games in the NCAA Tournament.
Baylor opened as a seven point favorite against Arkansas in the Elite Eight. Baylor has better individual defensive players like Mitchell and Butler. Also, Baylor has more shot-creators compared to Arkansas. Arkansas still has very talented scoring guards. The Razorbacks’ guards are capable of an offensive outburst, but Moody’s recent play suggests otherwise.
Ultimately, this Elite Eight matchup could very well come down to which star players bounce back. Does Butler and Teague bounce back for Baylor, or does Moody bounce back for Arkansas? Baylor and Arkansas will go all out for a chance at a Final Four birth Monday at 9:57 p.m. on CBS.
Prediction: 73-64 Baylor
All stats courtesy of ESPN and Team Rankings.