In the past five years, Villanova and Baylor have seen plenty of success. Villanova has claimed two national titles in the past five years. Meanwhile, Baylor went 26-4 last season and sit at 24-2 this year. The two teams will clash in the Sweet Sixteen this Saturday.
Baylor began the season 18-0, but started to slip after a COVID-19 pause. Some have questioned if Baylor is capable of winning a national title anymore. In their Round of 32 victory against Wisconsin, they certainly looked the part.
The Bears are rounding back into form after two March Madness victories. So far, Baylor’s assist to turnover ratio has been great in the NCAA Tournament. In the first two rounds, Baylor is averaging an assist to turnover ratio of 2.675. This is over two assists per turnover. For reference, the top assist to turnover ratio is 2.020. Baylor put on a ball movement clinic versus Wisconsin with 15 assists and only four turnovers. Maintaining this assist to turnover matchup will be a key for Baylor. The Bears are at their peak when they dominate the turnover battle. With an average margin of victory of +18.5 in March Madness, Baylor had 10 turnovers compared to Hartford’s 24. Also, Baylor had four turnovers compared to Wisconsin’s 14.
Perhaps Baylor’s biggest advantage against Villanova is three-point shooting. The Bears lead the country shooting 41.5% from three. Meanwhile, Villanova is 237th allowing opponents to shoot 34.9% from three. In addition, Villanova allowed their first two March Madness opponents to shoot over 30% from three. If Baylor shoots anything over 30% from three, they will have a good chance of advancing to the Elite Eight.
In the NCAA Tournament, Villanova has been without their star guard Collin Gillespie. Gillespie runs the Wildcat offense averaging 14 points with 4.6 assists. Unfortunately, Gillespie will miss March Madness with a torn MCL. This was a major concern for Villanova, but they have performed well without him.
To defeat Baylor, Villanova must have players increase their offensive production. The Villanova guard Justin Moore averages 12.8 points this season. Moore has averaged 15 points in the NCAA Tournament. Jermaine Samuels averages 11.9 points, but has some high-scoring games this season. To clarify, Samuels had back-to-back 20+ point games before the NCAA Tournament. Also, Samuels exploded with 32 points earlier in the season versus Georgetown. Samuels is averaging 16.8 points in his last four games. Moore and Samuels must have good offensive games versus Baylor.
Villanova only surrenders 8.8 turnovers per game, this leads college basketball. Turnovers will be huge for both teams in this Sweet Sixteen matchup. Baylor’s defense thrives at forcing turnovers. Baylor is sixth forcing 17.5 turnovers per game. Also, the Bears’ are forcing an average of 19 turnovers in the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin only turns it over nine times per game, but they had 14 turnovers against Baylor. Villanova has only averaged six turnovers in the NCAA Tournament. Baylor is hard to stop in transition, and their offense thrives off turnovers. To prevent this, Villanova cannot turn it over. If Villanova takes care of the ball, they have a great chance against Baylor.
Players to Watch
Baylor’s guard are simply overwhelming. With Gillespie’s injury, Villanova may not have the tools to slow down the Baylor backcourt. Davion Mitchell is coming off an impressive 16 point outing for Baylor. Also, Matthew Mayer had a great game against Wisconsin with 17 points. MaCio Teague had 22 points and Adam Flagler had 12 against Hartford. Jared Butler is the star Baylor guard averaging 16.9 points. However, Butler has not had a 20+ point game in his previous five contests. He may be due for a big game against Villanova. Clearly, Baylor has many scoring options in their backcourt.
Villanova has a fantastic forward in Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The ‘Nova forward is averaging 20 points in the NCAA Tournament. Baylor will need to keep an eye on the 6-foot-9 Robinson-Earl. How Baylor stops Robinson-Earl will be interesting. If Baylor has a weak point, it is their frontcourt. Mayer is 6-foot-9, but he is thin and typically plays guard. More than likely, the 6-foot-8 forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua or the 6-foot-10 Flo Thamba will defend Robinson-Earl. Baylor cannot let Robinson-Earl take over the game.
In conclusion, Baylor’s guards will likely be too much. In addition, Villanova is not great at defending the three which is not good. It seems like a matter of time before the First-Team All American Butler has another huge game for Baylor. If Villanova was to win, it will be due to turnovers. Baylor is not the same team when they do not force turnovers, it limits their offensive production greatly. This should be a close contest for the majority of the game, but Baylor is too good from three. Within the last 5-8 minutes, Baylor could pull away. Catch the game Saturday at 5:15 p.m. on CBS.
Prediction: 77-62 Baylor
All stats courtesy of ESPN and Team Rankings.