Today, the Kentucky Wildcats once again ascend to the NCAA regional final for the third consecutive year. This year's foe is the Baylor Bears, a Big 12 conference team that has been simply outstanding all year long in one of the toughest conferences in America.
Baylor got to this point by defeating the #14 South Dakota St. Jackrabbits, the #11 Colorado Buffaloes, and the #10 Xavier Musketeers. Theirs was by far the easiest path to the regional final, as they played not one but two teams who upset their favored opponents.
For the Wildcats, they got here by defeating the #16 seed Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, the #8 Iowa St. Cyclones, and the #4 Indiana Hoosiers. Kentucky is battle tested by it's most recent victory, which, despite the 12 point margin, was an emotional and difficult game against a very high-quality foe.
|Perry Jones III||Starter||So.||F||32||30.6||5.5||10.9||50.3||0.3||1.0||29.0||2.1||3.0||69.1||2.7||4.9||7.6||1.3||1.6||0.9||0.6||2.3||13.4|
|Anthony Jones||Major Reserve
|A.J. Walton||Sixth Man
Baylor Strengths vs. UK (all stats vs conference foes)
- Offensive rebounding. Balor is a very good offensive rebounding team.
- Free throw shooting. Baylor is even better than UK on the line, averaging 77+%
- Baylor does not put teams on the line very much. This is a good idea if you are playing Kentucky, because they make free throws.
Baylor Weaknesses vs. UK
- Offensive and defensive efficiency. Baylor is markedly inferior in both statistics, but more so on offense.
- Defensive rebounding. Baylor is actually adequate in this area, but they play a lot of zone defense, and defensive rebounding is a notable weakness of the zone. Bigger teams have given them trouble on the offensive glass.
- Getting to the line. Baylor doesn't do that very well, which minimizes the impact of their excellent free throw shooting.
Kentucky Strengths vs. Baylor
- Shooting the basketball. Baylor allows opponents nearly 48.5% from 2-point range, and Kentucky shoots a very high percentage inside.
- 3-point shooting. Kentucky is very dangerous on the perimeter against zone defenses, and they have been extremely strong in their tournament performances.
- Shot blocking. Kentucky is the best in the nation at this stat.
- Ball security. Baylor is very turnover-prone for as good as they are.
Kentucky Weaknesses vs. Baylor
- None specifically, but Baylor is a notoriously deep team that plays a lot of people. They conceivably could fatigue Kentucky in a high-pace game, but that's not really how the Bears play the game.
Key Matchups for Kentucky:
- Perry Jones III. Jones is an NBA lottery pick, and he can do everything you need to do, including shoot the ball from the perimeter. Anthony Davis will probably draw this assignment, and it is a tough one.
- Pierre Jackson. Despite his diminutive size at 5'10", Jackson is a great passer, a deadly 3-point shooter, and quick as greased lightning. He will be a handful, and no mistake, for Marquis Teague.
Key Matchups for Baylor
- Doron Lamb. Brady Haslip is not a good enough defender to handle Lamb, and Lamb has been amazing in the tournament on both sides of the ball. That's a very tough matchup for the Bears.
- Terrence Jones. Jones is too quick for Acy, too strong for Jones and Quincy Miller. Tough cover for the Bears.
The Baylor Bears are a very talented team. Their biggest weakness is their cohesiveness, which is not as strong as the Indiana Hoosiers. But top to bottom, they are far more talented than Indiana and match up pretty well at every position with Kentucky. Plus, they have a deep, talented bench that IU simply did not possess.
When you look at Baylor on paper, you wonder how they could possibly be only a 3 seed. This team looks like an NBA team, and if you put them side by side with Kentucky and put them all in the same uniform, you'd be hard-pressed to know the difference. There is nothing on the basketball floor that this Baylor team cannot do, and do as well as any team in the nation.
You must understand that if Baylor plays their level best, Kentucky will be very hard pressed to beat them. These teams are so similar it is eerie, and even though they play totally different styles of defense, the Baylor defense is one of the best zones in the country when they are in it. They are long, they block shots, and they have great size and skill.
This is a game that Kentucky could actually benefit from ratcheting up the tempo. Baylor is not a bad running team, but if you look at the teams that have given them the most trouble, most of them prefer a higher tempo than the Bears do. The Missouri Tigers defeated Baylor 3 times in the regular season, and their pressing, running, offense-first style was a big reason why.
Baylor is very like Kentucky in that the 3-point line is not where they prefer to get their points. With their size and skill, they like to work the ball inside to Acy, Jones III and Miller. With that said, Haslip has been on a tear lately, and you must stay at home on both him and Jackson. Baylor will sorely test Kentucky's internal defense. Obviously, with a team like Baylor, Anthony Davis becomes even more critical to their success as he is one of very few people that Baylor must respect in the paint.
Ken Pomeroy figures this game to be less competitive than IU, but don't bet on it, and the Vegas line is only 7.5 points last time I looked. Baylor is a major threat to pull an upset on Kentucky, and Kentucky has not faced a team all year with their depth and size. Despite all these physical attributes, however, the Bears have never been efficient on offense, and against a team like Kentucky, that's a big problem. Also, Scott Drew is a young coach who sometimes seems to make questionable decisions, but if you are Kentucky, you can't count on that.