In 2010, Baylor beat three not-very-good, double-digit seeds to make its first Elite 8 since 1950. The LaceDarius Dunn/Tweety Carter Bears dispatched #14 Sam Houston State, #11 Old Dominion, and #10 St. Mary's before falling to eventual champion Duke.
This year, Baylor finds history repeating itself. Scott Drew's enigmatic team squeaked by #14 South Dakota St., then crushed #11 Colorado. Should they get by #10 Xavier, a possible epic showdown with tournament favorite Kentucky looms.
However, don't expect a blowout; Xavier isn't your typical 10 seed. The Musketeers started the season 8-0, but never really got back on track after the infamous brawl against Cincinnati. Xavier ended the year with 12 losses, finishing just 10-6 in conference play. That said, the upperclassmen-laden squad is more talented than their record and match up awfully well against Baylor.
Senior big men Kenny Frease and Andre Walker will not back down from Baylor's forwards, Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy. Neither Frease nor Walker is a gifted offensive player, but both battle hard for rebounds and can block a shot or three.
Meanwhile, Xavier's backcourt is arguably more talented than Baylor's. Everyone knows about Tu Holloway, a preseason All-American candidate, but fellow guards Mark Lyons and Dezmine Wells can shoot, score, and play a little defense. Beyond the starting line-up, a trio of athletic backups--Travis Taylor, Justin Martin, and Jeff Robinson--can take on Baylor's usual matchup nightmares like Quincy Miller and Anthony Jones.
Two key matchups to watch are Frease's brute strength against Jones III's finesse game, and the offensive effectiveness of Baylor's Pierre Jackson versus Holloway's. Jones III has yet to get untracked in this tournament, scoring nine total points, yet Baylor has survived and advanced. Expect Drew to be chirping in his ear all week.
Meanwhile, Jackson totaled 33 points and 12 assists in two games, but also turned the ball over six times. This Friday, he draws one of the better guards in the nation. Jackson needs to manage the game as well as possible for Baylor to win. In the end, I think Baylor's raw talent keeps them in the tourney.
In a close game, the Bears win but don't cover, 74-71.