1.Baylor vs. 3.Arkansas
9:57 PM ET on CBS
The Elite Eight is set and while we had an upset-driven route to get here, I believe the two best teams in this region will be playing for the right to advance to the Final Four. Baylor has made the Elite Eight now three times since 2010 but will be looking to reach their first Final Four since 1950. Arkansas has not been in this game since 1995, a year in which the Razorbacks made it to the National Championship before losing to UCLA. One of these teams will do something it hasn’t this century, let’s see which team it will be.
Baylor comes into this game as the clear second-best team in College Basketball and the heavy favorites to advance to the title game. The Bears are led by a three-guard attack with Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Davion Mitchell, all of whom are unique in their skillsets. Jared Butler is the team’s best offensive player, he’s a good shooter, crafty finisher, and good passer. MaCio Teague is another crafty scorer and is a great shooter. While Davion Mitchell is the best defender in College Basketball, he’s great at locking down opposing ball-handlers, while his passing, creativity, and scoring ability to also pretty good. Mark Vital is the best glue-guy in the country, as he can affect winning in a major way, without scoring a point. Guard Adam Flagler and Unicorn Matthew Mayer provide an additional spark off the bench, both players would start on about 351 out of the 353 Division 1 Basketball teams. “Every day John” and Flo Thamba also provide some interior scoring and paint defense inside. This Bears team is deep, great at shooting threes, elite defensively, and has great team chemistry. This is the team that is supposed to be here, and they are supposed to advance to the National Championship as well.
When Eric Musselman took over Arkansas two years ago, there were some who still criticized the firing of Mike Anderson. Two years later the Razorbacks are doing things not done since 1995, while the Muss Bus continues to grow in popularity. The Razorbacks play a fun brand of basketball, they get up and down, take some wild shots but in the end, they play tough team defense and have gotten to this point, despite facing some tough deficits this postseason. Moses Moody is the team’s best scorer, he’s a freshman who is a great scorer, shooter, which has been big for the Razorbacks. Justin Smith has been playing the 4-5 for this team, his rebounding, defense, and toughness are important. Jalen Tate and JD Notae are transfers who have made a major impact scoring, Tate is the team’s best defender and is the team’s best passer. Devo Davis has been a major sparkplug as well, he makes questionable decisions, but he makes plays that are out of this world, most recently him knocking down the game-winner against Oral Roberts. The Razorbacks have not made it easy in this tournament, they’ve been down double-digits to 14 and 15 seeds, they’ve needed missed shots by other teams just to get here. That doesn’t matter in March, the Razorbacks have just survived and advanced.
Matchup-wise, neither one of these teams will have a matchup advantage from a size, talent, and athletic advantage, so a lot of this game will come down to coaching and the execution of players. At the guard spot, Davion Mitchell will likely be put on either Devo Davis or Jalen Tate, either way, that’s a matchup in which one of the two will be shutdown. Mark Vital will look to shutdown either Moses Moody or Justin Smith. For Arkansas, they can try to speed this game up but with three good guards for Baylor, that probably doesn’t favor them. The Razorbacks do have the ability to match up well against Baylor’s shooters, they are good at closing out and limiting threes, so the Bears could have another off-night. The Razorbacks are also known to get down early in games, which doesn’t bode well here because Baylor is great as a frontrunner in games. I think Arkansas will at least keep this game within range as we head into the final few minutes of this game but Baylor will hold on late to win this game and advance to the Final Four.
Prediction: Baylor 75 Arkansas 66