#10 Xavier Musketeers vs. #3 Baylor Bears -6 — West Regional Semifinal
Full disclosure – this is a tough one for me to pick. Being born and raised in Cincinnati and being a die-hard Xavier fan since I could walk, I have a bad habit of piking the X Men a few rounds further than I should in nearly every March Madness bracket. (In my defense, with all their ‘upsets’ over the last two decades, the strategy has suited me well). I have watched happily as the program evolved from the Cinderella dragon-slayers in the late eighties and early nineties into the “don’t call us MID-major we’ve been to four Sweet Sixteens in five seasons” national power. The shocking upset of the Mourning/Mutumbo Georgetown team in the 1990 NCAA Tourney is one of my favorite childhood sports memories, and I saw Byron Larkin play in the old Cincinnati Garden about the same time I was learning to read (no, I wasn’t a teenager, for you snarkier readers…). Anyhow, I’ve been an X fan for about two decades longer than it took national broadcasters to quit pronouncing it “Ex-Zay-Vier” (It’s “Zay-vyer” for the record….)
One of the cardinal rules in wagering is that you don’t bet with your heart, and when you fear you might be… simply walk away.
I tell you all this, not because you particularly care about my sporting fandom of youth or my nostalgic waxing. I tell you, because if I am going to wager against my team in the NCAA Tournament, it hurts a little, but there’s got to be a really good reason for it… like in this game tonight.
I am a big fan of analyzing individual matchups, and find that my winning percentages usually hover up around and over 60% in the pre-conference and post-season in college hoops. It is because many of the traditional numbers Vegas uses that become so relevant in conference play go out the window when you get out of conference. It makes the lines simply their guesses using the eye test, and I find my eye test is usually more reliable. With over 300 schools out there, the competition faced varies so wildly that stats are pretty useless. This ain’t the NBA. It has been by looking at style and personnel matchups over stats that I’m off to a 12-5-1 start ATS for the NCAA Tourney (two games left to play tonight as of writing this article).
Tonight’s game is another “stats out the window” type of analysis. For starters, Baylor is huge and wildly athletic. Xavier is not gifted inside, and the one premier non-guard athlete they do have, freshman Dezmine Wells, is nursing an injury and hasn’t practiced all week. That’s not a good omen before you face Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III on a neutral floor.
Tu Holloway has shot Xavier into a few games they should have lost this season. However he and his partner in crime Mark Lyons have shot them OUT of just as many. Don’t forget, this is a team that went 12-11 down the stretch after the brawl with Cincinnati, and that is coming against relatively average competition in the Atlantic 10. Baylor, on the other hand, aside from Kansas and Missouri (whom they went 1-4 against) was 24-2 with their only two losses against NCAA Tournament conference foes. They have overwhelmed smaller, slower teams like Northwestern, St. Mary’s and BYU – all of whom I would consider comparable teams to Xavier (ouch, that hurt to type…)
Baylor is bigger and quicker than Xavier at nearly every position on the floor. I don’t expect Brady Haslip to repeat his performance-of-a-lifetime where he hits nine three-pointers again, but I don’t think he’ll have to. As long as Pierre Jackson doesn’t go bananas trying to trade baskets with Tu Holloway and stays within the framework of the offense, I just don’t see Xavier having the fire power to stay with them. This is one of those rare occasions when I hope my pick is wrong… but I don’t think it is going to be. I like Baylor to win by double-digits. Look for them to get out to a healthy lead and for Xavier to commit turnovers and take forced shots down the stretch and for the game to get a little out of hand.
Free Pick: Baylor Bears -6