#16 Baylor Bears (5-0) at #21 Xavier Mountaineers (5-1)
Not a lot of the top twenty-five will be in action today after a weekend filled with lots of big-time matchups. The lone matchup today featuring two ranked teams will be the game I will evaluate, as the Baylor Bears take their undefeated record and number 16 national ranking to Cincinnati, Ohio to face the Xavier Musketeers. Xavier will look to protect its home court and their own ranking, 21st in the country. The Musketeers are -4.5-point favorites and the game total over-under is set at 146 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 3:30 PM PST from the Cintas Center.
The Xavier Musketeers are known for scheduling light in the nonconference. It’s hard to blame head coach Chris Mack for keeping it easy in the preseason as the Big East is going to offer plenty of opportunity for good competition. Using that soft scheduling to their advantage Xavier has won 33 consecutive home nonconference games heading into this one, and that streak is on the line tonight.
The Musketeers benefited from some more soft matchups as they cruised to the Las Vegas Invitational finals against Arizona State. It looked like Xavier was going to run away with that game as well, as they had a 15-point first half lead before the wheels fell off and the Sun Devils powerful offense got hot. Arizona State pulled off the upset and took home the trophy, 102-86 in Las Vegas. It was a little shocking to see Xavier give up 100 points as they are always a team that prides itself on the defensive end of the court.
Xavier is happy to be home and ready to pick up what could be a huge nonconference win. Trevon Bluiett is the leading scorer for the Musketeers, and they will need him to come through big in this game if they want to pick up the win. Bluiett was basically a no-show against Arizona State with only 11 points on 4-10 shooting, and the Musketeers just couldn’t hang in a shootout without their best scorer on top of his game. Bluiett had scored at least 20 points in every game this season before the letdown against the Sun Devils, and they will need his A-game tonight in what should be a tight game.
The Baylor Bears aren’t scared to go on the road and win a game. The Bears just took the championship of the Hall of Fame Classic tournament and had to beat a couple of very strong teams to bring home the title. The Bears beat a very good Wisconsin team in the semifinals and then handed an undefeated and nationally ranked Creighton team its first loss in the finals.
The next couple of days will be a huge stretch to define just how good this Baylor team is this year. They are in the midst of playing against three ranked teams in a row. First was Creighton, now they face Xavier, and next week they will play at home against Wichita State. If they can finish that stretch of games undefeated, they will certainly be ranked in the top ten in the country.
The Bears are made up of a series of matchup problems, the biggest of which is the 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil. The 7-footer has some decent range for a big man and can dominate in the post. The Bears run a lot of half court offense and love to post up the big guy. If you can’t stop them from pounding the ball down low, they are content to do it every play. The Bears can also score from the outside as guard Manu Lecomte is averaging over 19 points a game. They can beat you high, they can beat you low, they are tough for any team in the country to match up with.
To me, this game is a tossup. Both teams could possibly be looking ahead to their next games. Baylor with the looming matchup with Wichita State and Xavier with a crosstown rival matchup with a very good Cincinnati team. So, I think those concerns generally cancel each other out. This game is going to come down to who can play their brand of basketball. Will the Bears be able to dump it into the post all day long for easy buckets or will Xavier get its defensive identity back after getting scorched by Arizona State and slow down the Baylor scoring attack? I think the Bears offer too many matchup problems not to like them getting 4.5 points. This smells like a one-possession game that is going to go right down to the wire. Who scores that last bucket and takes the game? Hard to say, I would tend to lean slightly towards the home team. But for my bet? I am taking the road team and the points. Give me the Baylor Bears +4.5 tonight.