The NCAA Tournament has enjoyed a number storylines this March, with lower seeds pulling off unpredictable upsets and destroying brackets from coast to coast. One story that isn’t getting enough press, but will explode if they win in Houston is the Baylor Bears.
It was just seven years ago Baylor was rocked with a scandal in the death of basketball player Patrick Dennehy. His teammate Carlton Dotson pleaded guilty to the homicide and coach Dave Bliss was believed to be in a cover-up, which also happened to dig up recruiting violations by Bliss, forcing him to resign. The Baylor basketball program was dead.
Scott Drew was told by almost everyone that the Baylor basketball job was a suicide mission for someone young with upward mobility. Drew took the job anyway and what he has accomplished in this short period of time is as good or better than any Cinderella story in March.
Baylor (28-7, 18-10 ATS) has as much physical ability as any team left in the tournament. LaceDarius Dunn is dominant scorer (witness the 23 points vs. St. Mary’s), Tweety Carter can scorch the nets and distribute dimes with regularity. Ekpe Udoh and Josh Lomers are big bodies around the rim, with Udoh a terrific specimen, just tapping into his potential. The Bears are versatile and have experience and are 12-2 ATS having won four of their last five games this season. One more thing, until 10 days ago, the last time Baylor won a NCAA tournament game was 1950. Gulp.
Standing in their way is one of the dominant programs in recent college basketball history (10 Final Four’s under Coach K), the Duke Blue Devils (32-5, 21-14-1 ATS). In what has been an unusual basketball season, even the Duke-haters have been surprisingly quiet. It’s not like the Duke has snuck up on anyone this year, being co-champions of the ACC, winning the conference tournament and elected as a top seed, yet all this has happened with very little clamor.
Maybe it’s because of the Blue Devils failures in the previous couple of tournaments or lack of superstar talent on the roster. Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are the three best perimeter players in the country on the balance of the season. None of them carries much of a “wow” factor, yet each is coldly efficient. Even oddsmakers haven’t been able to beat Duke, since they are regularly shaded with additional baggage and they are 10-1 ATS versus offensive teams scoring 77 or more points a game this season.
Where coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team has made the biggest strides is the frontline players add defense and rebounding, two qualities lacking of late. Opposing teams are scoring only 60.5 points per contest against Duke on 40 percent shooting. The combinations of Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas and the Plumlee brothers have stifled opposing offenses and the Blue Devils are 9-2 ATS after allowing 25 points or less in the first half last outing.
Duke is a five-point pick at DiamondSportsbook.com and will be in unfriendly environment, with Houston crowd pro-Baylor. The Dukies are 7-3 ATS as neutral site favorites and 16-6 UNDER after five or more consecutive victories. Baylor will be able to feed off the energy from the crowd and are 9-1 ATS after two games as chalk. Their mission in 2-3 zone is to keep what appears to be a tired Jon Scheyer in shooting slump and control the boards. The Bears are 10-1 OVER after a win by 15 points or more this season.
The 1 vs. 3 Elite Eight conflicts show there is not much difference between the teams with 10-8 SU edge for the higher seed. Where separation occurs is when the top seed has won nine of 10 games before the tournament (Duke 12-1 SU), they are 7-2 SU and if the lower seed has inexperienced coach in the Big Dance, they are 2-7 SU.