- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A look at Saturday’s Round of 32 doubleheader at The Pit:
No. 5 seed Vanderbilt (25-10) vs. No. 4 Wisconsin (25-9), 6:10 p.m. ET
Vanderbilt can see itself in Wisconsin. The Badgers see the Commodores as a mirror image as well.
These are two programs that have been consistently good under Kevin Stallings and Bo Ryan, yet constantly undervalued in their respective conferences.
They are never the first pick to win the league title. They don’t get the top choice in recruits. Yet they remain in the mix near the top of their conferences, usually have upperclassmen contributing at a high level and have had their share of NBA talent.
Wisconsin has won Big Ten titles. Vanderbilt finally won an SEC one, at least in the tournament. It still counts.
And now they will meet in a 4 vs. 5 East Region game Saturday afternoon with the chance to possibly take on top-seeded Syracuse in Boston next Thursday if the Orange can get past Kansas State -- no easy feat -- Saturday in Pittsburgh.
“I would say there is a lot of truth in all those things, but they’ve probably done it at a better level than we have,’’ Stallings said Friday. “We’ve tried to be a consistent program. And for the most part we’ve been able to accomplish that. They’re usually picked to finish lower in the Big Ten and they end up in the top two or three. They’ve done a great job there.’’
Vandy hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2007. Wisconsin went last year.
“For us the consistency is all about Coach Ryan,’’ said Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor. “Everyone buys into what they’re trying to teach. Everyone loves to say that we’re not athletic or not as athletic as other people. They say the same thing about Vanderbilt in comparison to Kentucky. But guys buy into what is being taught, they want to win and be successful.’’
“Both programs consistently win a lot of games, but we’ve struggled to get over the hump,’’ Jeffery Taylor said. “It should be really fun [Saturday] since the team that wins has a chance to make a run."
Vandy should win this game. The Commodores, as Ryan noted, have senior starters that dominate the minutes. And the Badgers have overachieved the past month after struggling early in the season and losing a blasphemous three home games. But wins at Ohio State and over Indiana in the Big Ten tournament, coupled with a convincing hammering of Montana in the NCAAs, have the Badgers believing in a Sweet 16 berth.
“I’m so happy with this team, especially what we did in Columbus,’’ Ryan said. “We came together.’’
The Badgers will have to make 3s to advance. But neither team will or should be tight. Vandy simply had to get that first win after losing in the first round three of the past four years.
Taylor said it was nice to sit around Friday and watch other teams in the tournament and know the Commodores were still alive.
“It was so nice to get that first game because it can ruin your season,’’ said Stallings. “You work so hard to get to a point where you’ve accomplished enough to be a 5-seed and get rewarded for it and then it can all go in the trash can if you don’t win the first game.
“There was a lot of pressure and high tension intensity,’’ Stallings said of the Harvard game. “Now we can relax and go play and let it hang out. Now we got past it and we can relax and hopefully just do our best.’’
No. 11 Colorado (24-11) vs. No. 3 Baylor (28-7), 8:40 p.m. ET
The Bears should be Kentucky’s most formidable opponent in the South bracket. Baylor has the length, the athleticism and the overall productivity at every position to match the Wildcats. But that matchup wouldn’t happen until the Elite Eight in Atlanta next Sunday.
But the Bears are playing a team in Colorado that may be as loose as any in the tournament. The Buffs weren’t supposed to be here. No, not just in the third round. They weren’t supposed to be in the NCAAs. But they won the Pac-12 tournament with four wins in four days. And then took down No. 6 seed UNLV on Thursday.
“They will be the most talented team we will have faced,’’ said Colorado coach Tad Boyle. “We’ve got to limit them to one shot. We can’t let them have second or third opportunities. We have to be physical against them. We’ve played against a team like them, but not as long or athletic.’’
But CU hasn’t faced a team as talented as Baylor during this five-game run.
The pressure is all on the Bears to win.
“We’re loose,’’ Boyle said. “We’re confident and have nothing to lose.’’
But the Bears may have an option that can really squash the Buffs’ ability to play catchup. If guard Brady Heslip is hot from the perimeter and makes 3s in bunches, then the Buffs may not have a chance.
“He makes the floor get spaced and you have to know where he is at all times,’’ Baylor coach Scott Drew said.
Heslip’s appearance as a key member of this team makes it even harder to fathom that Boston College passed on his services. Heslip was recruited by Pat Duquette and played on semester for Al Skinner before he was forced out at BC. New coach Steve Donahue didn’t think Heslip fit into the Eagles' plans, even though he’d be perfect for the Cornell-style offense.
“I didn’t take it personal but that’s how they viewed it and after meeting it made sense to move on,’’ Heslip said.
Heslip said it means the world to him to be in the NCAA tournament for the first time and now with a chance to be on a team that can advance deep.
Drew said Heslip deserves all the credit for losing 24 pounds and toning his body. He has made himself into a player.
And as a result, he can provide the necessary dagger for the Bears in a tight game or when a lead needs to be stretched.