The Wisconsin Badgers and Baylor Bears face off Thursday in the NCAA West Regional semi-finals in Anaheim in what should prove to be one of the most entertaining Sweet 16 games of 2014. Baylor barely worked up a sweat in eliminating Nebraska and Creighton to advance, and Wisconsin breezed by American in the second round before having to come back from a 12-point halftime deficit on Saturday to send Oregon packing.
One of the very interesting factors in this game is the fact that both teams won their first two games in arenas that are near their homes. Wisconsin played their games at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, and Baylor was assigned to San Antonio, less than three hours from Waco, Texas, home of the Bears. Now they will be playing in Anaheim, CA and it will truly be a neutral court.
Both the Badgers and the Bears have had great runs in the second half of the NCAA basketball season. Wisconsin has won 11 of their past 13 games. Overall they are 28-7, with 6 of those losses coming in the Big 10 conference regular season. Their only other loss came to Michigan State in the Big 10 tournament. It is interesting to note that the Badgers have not lost to a non-Big 10 team this year, and some of their early season wins were over fellow NCAA Sweet 16 teams Florida and Virginia.
Baylor is 26-11 overall and, like Wisconsin, dominated their non-conference schedule. Their only loss to a team not in the Big12 was in November to Syracuse. The Bears entered the conference tournament with a 9-9 record and won three straight games before falling in the finals to Iowa State. They are 12-2 in their last 14 games.
You don’t get to the NCAA Sweet 16 without being a hot team, and the Bears and Badgers are torrid. When these two teams meet in Anaheim, something will have to give. Wisconsin has scored 160 points in two tournament games, Baylor has scored 159. Wisconsin has given up 112 and Baylor has allowed 115. Each team likes to play a half-court game but has shown that they can play up-tempo if they need to. The only statistics that really stand out in comparing these two teams are the numbers inside. Baylor has skilled big men in the paint, ranking No. 20 in the nation in blocked shots. Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Rico Gathers (what a great name for a rebounder) have been dominant inside. The thing that really kick-started the Badgers in their comeback win against Oregon was their effort in the second half to score points from close-in, which opened up their 3-point shooters. If the Badgers can’t score down low against the Bears, they are going to have to hope to have a hot shooting night.
A look at the major categories in this Sweet 16 game between Wisconsin and Baylor shows the Bears with the advantage in points, rebounds, assists and blocks. Baylor coach Scott Drew is 2-0 in Sweet Sixteen games and his team plays in, arguably, the best conference in the nation. It is hard to ignore the intangibles when picking against a hard-nosed team like the Badgers, but it all looks too good for the team from Waco. Baylor 85 Wisconsin 81.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky