Game Time: 12:40 PM EST, Friday, March 17th
Location: BOK Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Baylor University Bears ( 25-7 overall, 12-6 Big 12 Conference)
Baylor didn’t exactly blow the doors off the Big 12 as one of the sexiest teams in conference this year. They started unranked by everyone, including zero votes in the Associated Press preseason poll.
The Bears took it all in stride though, winning their first 15 games and later making their case to be a dark horse candidate to win the Big 12 title. Despite a loss to Kansas State in its opening game in the tournament, Baylor’s strong regular season helped it secure an at-large bid for the Big Dance.
Balyor’s main strength is that it can choke the life out of its opponents on defense, as it allowed only 62.7 points per game as the 16th best defense in the nation. With a focus on making opponents pick a bad shot, few teams will bring the kind of pressure the Bears do.
Johnathan Motley could be a one-man wrecking crew for Baylor, as the team’s leading scorer is averaging a near double-double with 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Manu Lecomte will also be key, as the guard is averaging 12.4 points on 42.2 percent shooting behind the three-point arc.
The only major knock on the Bears coming into the tournament is their inconsistent play in the late part of the season. After their winning streak, Baylor lost 10 of its last 17 games, which will serve as a concern for them if the trend continues into the postseason.
New Mexico State University Aggies (28-5 overall, 11-3 Western Athletic Conference)
New Mexico State nearly missed out on its chance to dance this year, as it took a second-half rally against top seed Cal State Bakersfield to take the Western Athletic Conference title. The Aggies, who won the conference title for the fifth time in six years, now find themselves in a position to create some havoc.
A main strength of this team is its ability to win the battle down low and grab rebounds, as the team had the 17th best mark in the nation with 39.8 boards per game. Eli Chuha and Jemerrio Jones led the team with 9.0 and 8.5 rebounds respectively, which will be key for NMSU.
The Aggies also benefited from double-digit scoring from four players including Chuha(12.4 PPG), Ian Baker (16.6 PPG), Sidy Ndir (13.7 PPG) and Braxton Huggins (13.6 PPG) Much of the team’s offensive strategy will rely on getting the ball close to the basket, so expect NMSU to try and flex its muscle in the paint.
New Mexico State does have the ability to get hot and stay hot, as its 20-game winning streak proves. NMSU’s ability to come back in games is also very apparent from its WAC tournament comeback, so they have plenty of things going for them.
On the flip side, the Aggies are just slightly above average on defense, allowing 67.1 points per game. The key thing to take into account will be the type of competition NMSU has faced, as they have not faced a ranked opponent this year.
That lack of competition may not seem like much for a small team – as most do not play five or six ranked teams in a year – but their numbers will be put to the test by the Bears.
To win this game, Baylor will have to make sure they don’t give the Aggies a chance to let their offense start rolling. A double-double performance by Motley will be a good indicator of how the team is performing as a whole unit and show if they are able to feed their main scorer.
NMSU will need to win the battle on the boards against the Bears to improve its odds of staying in the game. They cannot waste offensive opportunities, especially against a strong defense like the Bears possess.
The Aggies could honestly pull an upset if they can get ahead early, but I believe that Baylor will be too much for them to overcome. NMSU will charge back from a double-digit deficit in the second half, but it will be too little,
Baylor 85, New Mexico State University 79