Dallas Colleges: Xavier Musketeers
ATLANTA -- Baylor had every right to be concerned this past offseason.
The Bears went from the Elite Eight to no postseason at all. After losing Perry Jones III for the Big 12 tournament, when he was deemed ineligible for extra benefits, Baylor didn't receive an NIT bid. Didn't even receive a CBI bid.
The Bears were shut out after an Elite Eight appearance. And it hurt.
“We were upset by the fact that we weren’t even invited to the NIT,’’ said Baylor senior forward Anthony Jones. “We didn’t want our season to end the way it did last year.’’
But if Baylor wanted to be taken seriously, the Bears had to follow through with a rebound season in 2011-12 or else there would be serious questions about if this program was a one-hit wonder.
“That was the beginning of this season,’’ said Baylor coach Scott Drew of the postseason shutout. “We were devastated and disappointed. At the same time, that motivated us to all come back and finish what we knew we were capable of.’’
Well, a year later, the Bears are back in the Elite Eight after a 75-70 victory over Xavier, placing them in rare company of programs that will play in a regional final in two of the past three years. BU joins North Carolina, and perhaps Kentucky and Kansas later tonight.
And, for the second time in three seasons, there’s a good chance the Bears could face the potential champion to get to the Final Four.
Two years ago, the Bears lost to eventual champion Duke in the Elite Eight in Houston. This season they’ll likely have to get past Kentucky to get to New Orleans.
This group is a much more experienced team than even the Elite Eight team in 2010, and certainly more so than last season.
The Bears didn’t have a point guard with as much playmaking and sturdiness as Pierre Jackson. They didn’t have a sharp shooter like Brady Heslip.
And they didn’t have a force like Quincy Acy. He was there, but he wasn’t even close to the player he is now.
Acy was a dominant presence in spurts against Xavier on Friday. The Bears raced out to a 14-2 start and whenever the Bears wanted to re-assert themselves, Acy was there with a ferocious flush.
“Last year was our motivation,’’ said Acy. “We worked harder than ever before in the preseason. We had high motivation. None of us wanted to go out like that. Perry didn’t have a postseason.’’
Jones III made the decision to come back despite having to sit the first five games of this season. Jones III has had his enigmatic moments, but he also has proven to be a tough matchup. A few lobs in the second half were difference-makers for the Bears.
“We started to get stops and threw a different defense at them,’’ Acy said. “We still need to do a better job of holding leads. We still need to work on that.’’
The Bears have the length and athleticism to beat Indiana and certainly to match up with Kentucky.
“This is crazy, to go from sophomore year to the Elite Eight, to junior year no postseason and then back to the Elite Eight with a chance to go to the Final Four, it’s indescribable,’’ Anthony Jones said. “Senior leadership is the difference. Talent-wise, we’re a much better team.
“A lot of people in the country want to see this matchup,’’ Jones said of playing Kentucky. “We can take it up another level.’’
Drew has often been criticized for his coaching, and some rival coaches love to make it seem like he pulled off a get-rich scheme to put Baylor on the map so soon after the scandal that rocked the university.
After another Elite Eight in such a brief period, Drew is starting to quiet all the dissenters.
Few coaches reach one Elite Eight. Now Drew has been to two.
“We’ve been blessed,’’ Drew said. “I’ll tell you how much after Sunday.’’
ATLANTA -- A quick look at Baylor's 75-70 win over Xavier in a Sweet 16 matchup at the Georgia Dome.
Overview: If you had turned off the television or left the Georgia Dome five minutes into the game, you would have thought Baylor should just cut down the nets in New Orleans. The Bears had one of the more impressive starts in the NCAA tournament, getting off to a 14-2 lead to begin the game.
Baylor can look incredibly impressive when it’s out in the open floor. Quincy Acy is a force when he can get to the basket, especially on a dunk. Pierre Jackson runs a fluid game, and Brady Heslip is one of the better complementary role players with his shooting in the field.
But the Bears don’t put teams away. Xavier fought back by going inside to Kenny Frease and was within two scores a number of times in the second half. The Musketeers couldn’t make enough 3s, and that ultimately might have been their undoing.
Baylor survived and advanced to the Elite Eight. Just think about that. Baylor is in its second Elite Eight in three seasons. Baylor. That should speak volumes about how far this program has come under Scott Drew.
Key player: Quincy Acy. The Bears desperately need a physical force. They have tremendous length, but they don’t always use that size and strength to their advantage. Acy was a man among boys at times Friday. His ferocious dunks should be made into freeze-frame posters to hand out at the Georgia Dome. Acy allowed the Bears to settle down when they got a little too wild, and finished with 15 rebounds and 20 points. If Acy continues to play this way, the Bears have a legitimate shot to hang with Kentucky and, perhaps, pull off an upset.
Key stat: The Musketeers’ 3-point shooting was a woeful 3-for-15. Justin Martin made two 3s in the game. If the Musketeers were going to come all the way back from a 14-2 deficit, they were going to need to make 3s. Xavier did a fine job of getting the ball inside to Frease during a 13-0 run late in the first half. But the scoring droughts from Tu Holloway in the second half didn’t help. The Musketeers did get the lead down to six with a little more than a minute left -- on that second 3-pointer by Martin. Holloway hit his first 3-pointer of the game with just less than 20 seconds left to cut Baylor’s lead to 71-68. Heslip then converted four free throws to help the Bears to a 75-70 final.
Turning point: Perry Jones III has been rather quiet throughout the NCAA tournament. But Jackson made sure he was assertive and helped snuff out a mini Xavier run that seemed to be turning momentum. Following an Anthony Jones 3-pointer, Jones III received two lobs -- the first from Jackson -- and hit a face-up jumper, pushing the Bears to a nine-point lead. The Musketeers didn’t go away quietly and had it down to five points. But Jones’ assertiveness definitely helped shift momentum back to the Bears at a critical time.
What’s next: No. 3-seeded Baylor will take on No. 1-seeded Kentucky on Sunday at the Georgia Dome. This will be Baylor’s second Elite Eight in three seasons. The Bears have Final Four potential. The problem is that they’re in Kentucky’s bracket. Put Baylor in the West bracket, and it’s not close which team would be the favorite.
Wisconsin lost to No. 1 seed Syracuse after botching its final possession. Michigan State forgot how to score. Ohio State won the battle between two in-state schools. Florida continued its surge with a win over Marquette.
What will Day 2 bring?
Xavier (10) vs. Baylor (3), 7:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Things to know: Both teams have endured their fair share of criticism this year.
The fight seemed to take the wind out of a Xavier team that entered the year on numerous “Final Four dark horse” lists. Then, the scuffle happened and Xavier lost five of its next six.
But the Musketeers have begun the process of restoring their image. Tu Holloway has scored a combined 46 points in Xavier’s NCAA tourney victories over Lehigh and Notre Dame. This edgy, tough bunch will certainly put up a fight against a talented Baylor team, especially if Dezmine Wells can go.
Baylor has all of the tools to reach the Final Four in New Orleans. Some are even picking the Bears to upset Kentucky because they have the length and athleticism to match the Wildcats.
But the Bears have fallen short of their potential for most of the season. Perry Jones III, a possible lottery pick, has been inconsistent (nine points combined in two tourney victories). Scott Drew’s coaching decisions have been questioned.
Still, the Bears have a chance to reach their second Elite Eight in three years if they get past the Musketeers.
Look for Xavier to pressure the perimeter and try to neutralize Brady Heslip (9-for-12 from beyond the arc in Baylor's third-round win over Colorado). Kenny Frease will throw his weight around for buckets in the paint. Look for the Bears to continuously work their inside-outside game.
The journey: Xavier beat Notre Dame and Lehigh to reach the Sweet 16. Baylor defeated South Dakota State and Colorado.
Monitor his progress: Frease has scored in the single digits in four of his team’s last seven losses. The big man’s bulk will be vital for the Musketeers inside the paint.
Numbers to impress your friends: Heslip doesn’t have to dribble to score. He’s recorded his 14 field goals in the Big Dance via catch-and-shoot plays, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Game’s most critical question: Will Frease make an impact against Baylor’s length and athleticism?
The matchup: Frease against Quincy Acy. Two talented big men who don’t mind contact. Could get scrappy.
Don’t touch that remote because ... Baylor has one of the most impressive assemblies in the field on paper. But Xavier has a tough crew, too. Might be game of the night.
North Carolina (1) vs. Ohio (13), 7:47 p.m ET, TBS
Things to know: Ohio wasn’t expected to reach this point. But junior D.J. Cooper has been a gem for the Bobcats. He has recorded 40 points and 12 assists in NCAA tourney wins over Michigan and South Florida.
Cooper might be the most important player in the remaining field. He’s scored or assisted on 56 percent of the team’s 71 points, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Looking for this year’s Steph Curry? Cooper has earned that tag.
Ohio is facing a North Carolina team that will likely compete without its starting point guard. Kendall Marshall had surgery on a broken wrist earlier this week. He suffered the injury in the team’s third-round win over Creighton. Coach Roy Williams said he has a “strong inclination” that Marshall will not play against Ohio.
The Tar Heels are still the superior group without him. John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes can lead the program to a Saturday matchup against the winner of NC State-Kansas.
The Tar Heels are ninth in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo ratings. They’ll certainly push the pace against the Bobcats.
Look for the Bobcats, however, to pressure new point guard Stilman White, Marshall’s replacement if he can’t go. The freshman has averaged just 4.3 minutes per game. Look for North Carolina to use its length and talent to overwhelm the Bobcats.
The journey: North Carolina defeated Vermont and Creighton to reach the Sweet 16. Ohio had to outplay Michigan and South Florida to reach the Sweet 16.
Monitor his progress: White might be the starting point guard for a North Carolina team that’s capable of reaching New Orleans, but he’s never played under these lights. Hard to know what to expect from the youngster. But he just became one of the most important players on the floor.
Numbers to impress your friends: Life without Marshall might not end well. The sophomore point guard has assisted on 41 percent of North Carolina’s points since the start of ACC play, per ESPN Stats & Info. North Carolina’s 38.4 points per game in the paint are the top mark among major-conference schools.
Game’s most critical question: How quickly will White adjust to his new role as starting point guard?
The matchup: Cooper versus White. Cooper is a veteran guard who’s put Ohio on the national radar with two great performances in his first two NCAA tournament games. White will have his hands full.
Don’t touch that remote because ... Ohio continues to surpass expectations. And North Carolina could crumble without Marshall.
Indiana (4) vs. Kentucky (1), 9:45 p.m. ET, CBS
Things to know: Get your popcorn ready for this one.
On Dec. 10, Indiana beat Kentucky at Assembly Hall and changed the trajectory of its season. Christian Watford’s 3-pointer at the buzzer. Court-storming. Players standing atop the scorers’ table. Legendary.
A rematch, but both teams have matured since that game. Following that loss to Indiana, Kentucky didn’t lose again until the SEC tournament title game.
From Dec. 28 through Feb. 1, the Hoosiers went 5-6. But they’ve amassed a 10-2 record since that rocky sequence.
Cody Zeller’s transformation from impressive freshman to potential lottery pick helped the Hoosiers reach the Sweet 16. Zeller, ranked seventh in John Hollinger’s PER ratings (31.16), recorded 14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 6 steals in his team’s second-round win over New Mexico State. He followed that up with 16 points and 13 rebounds against VCU.
With the assistance of Zeller’s development and a 43.7 percent clip from the 3-point line (No. 2 in the country), the Hoosiers possess the No. 4 offense in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings.
But against Kentucky, it’s always a game of “anything you can do I can do better.” The Wildcats have the No. 2 offense in Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings. They’re ninth in defensive efficiency.
They have Anthony Davis (14.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 4.6 bpg), too.
After that Indiana loss, the Wildcats stopped all arguments about the best team in America. They separated themselves from the field and entered the NCAA tournament as the favorites to win it all.
That hasn’t changed.
In this matchup, look for the Hoosiers to attack Davis again -- he picked up early fouls in the first game -- and hoist 3s early to stretch Kentucky’s defense. Look for the Wildcats to burst up the floor off misses and turn this into an up-and-down affair.
The journey: Indiana beat New Mexico State then dismissed VCU with clutch plays down the stretch. Kentucky beat Western Kentucky then overcame Royce White’s 23-point, nine-rebound effort to beat Iowa State.
Monitor his progress: The Wildcats are a different squad without Davis on the floor. The Wildcats were outscored by 12 points during the 16 minutes the team had to go without Davis because of foul trouble in the first Indiana-Kentucky game in Bloomington.
Numbers to impress your friends: Davis is one of the toughest defenders in recent history. Teams are perplexed as they try to find ways to score with Davis inside. But he’s not just a post defender. Davis has blocked 14 3-point attempts this season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Game’s most critical question: If Davis picks up early fouls, can Kentucky still win?
The matchup: Davis versus Zeller. Must-see TV.
Don’t touch that remote because ... This is Indiana-Kentucky: The Rematch. It’s that simple.
North Carolina State (11) vs. Kansas (2), 10:17 p.m. ET, TBS
Things to know: NC State lost four in a row in February. The Wolfpack were the last to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
But the Wolfpack revived their entire season with a surprising outing in Columbus last week. The 11-seed upset San Diego State in the second round. The Aztecs didn’t have answers for NC State’s size and athleticism. Then, the Wolfpack recovered from a 10-point deficit in the first half to beat Georgetown, a No. 3 seed.
It’s all coming together at the perfect time for Mark Gottfried’s team. C.J. Leslie, a player whose effort has been questioned in the past, is leading the charge.
But they’re going into an environment that will resemble a home game for the Jayhawks. The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis will be packed with Kansas fans. And that’s just the start of NC State’s worries.
The Wolfpack have to deal with National Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson (16 points and 13 rebounds in a second-round win over Detroit; 11 points and 13 rebounds in a third-round win over Purdue) and one of the best defensive teams in the country (No. 5 in Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings).
The Jayhawks were on the verge of suffering an upset late in the third round, but a Purdue turnover gave the squad the opportunity it needed to secure the win in the final minutes. Part of Kansas’ challenges thus far are tied to its subpar shooting. Its 26.3 field goal percentage outside the paint in its first two games was the worst mark entering the Sweet 16, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Look for NC State to push the pace and find Scott Wood (41.7 percent from beyond the arc this season) and Lorenzo Brown (3-for-5 from the 3-point line in the NCAA tourney) on the perimeter. Look for Kansas to feed Robinson and Jeff Withey and challenge NC State’s frontcourt.
The journey: Kansas beat Detroit in its first game and escaped Purdue in its third-round win. The Wolfpack defeated San Diego State and Georgetown to reach the Sweet 16.
Monitor his progress: Tyshawn Taylor (17.3 ppg) is one of the most explosive guards in the tourney. But he’s committed 16 turnovers in the team’s last five games. Similar mistakes in Friday’s game could give the Wolfpack the opening to pull off the upset.
Numbers to impress your friends: NC State has scored 58 points in the paint (38 against San Diego State and 20 against Georgetown).
Game’s most critical question: Will 7-footer Withey (11 points) show up?
The matchup: Leslie versus Robinson. This matchup between a pair of talented forwards will have a critical impact on the outcome of the game.
Don’t touch that remote because ... Kansas hasn’t looked great thus far. NC State has surpassed expectations. A third upset for the Wolfpack is possible.
ATLANTA -- Perry Jones III doesn’t have to be dominant for Baylor to advance to the Elite Eight.
All he has to do is stay on the floor.
The 6-foot-11 Jones has been much-maligned this season. There are times when he looks like a top-10 NBA draft pick. There are other times when he’s just another lanky, athletic big from Baylor.
But his presence is enough to warrant plenty of attention -- and that can end up meaning buckets inside for Quincy Acy or Anthony Jones, and certainly open 3s for Brady Heslip.
If Jones were playing hockey, he’d get plenty of assists from his passes that lead to the pass for the score.
Jones hasn’t had a breakthrough scoring game since his 31 against Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament. The sophomore's numbers have dipped recently, and he has a combined nine points in the first two NCAA tournament games. But he did have 11 boards in a win over South Dakota State and four in the win over Colorado.
“Sometimes my shot is not falling,’’ Jones said Thursday in advance of Friday night’s game against Xavier in the Sweet 16 at the Georgia Dome. “I shy away from keeping shooting the ball. Sometimes it’s not my night. I mean, it doesn’t bother me at all if we’re winning the game. I feel like I help my team in other ways.’’
Xavier will need to find Jones throughout the game Friday night.
“The best thing I can do is try to get the ball to whoever’s hot in the game,’’ Jones said. “If my shot’s not falling, I’d rather go 1-for-7 than 1-for-20-something and then we lose. I just try to do something, just try to rebound, maybe get offensive rebounds, do whatever I can to help my team.’’
Jones may have hurt his NBA draft stock a bit. But not much. You can’t take away his length and athleticism. He still oozes potential. The goal in Atlanta is to ensure he’s on the scouting report for the Musketeers.
And he will be.
“The best thing I can do is move forward and help our team break through for the next couple of games,’’ Jones said.
If Baylor gets a chance to face Kentucky, Jones will need to be a factor against Anthony Davis and friends.
“You’ve got to have balance and that’s the strength of our team,’’ Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We have unselfish players. Perry Jones wasn’t making some shots the last two games that he normally does, but to his credit, a lot of times because of the help-side defense, he was making the hockey assist out, which led to baskets.
“Statistically, it doesn’t show up, but at the end of the day, wins and losses are the most important thing. Without the front-line play, we definitely don’t get two wins.’’
Who to watch
Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, Xavier: The Xavier guards were the reason that some of us, notably me, picked the Musketeers to get to the Final Four in November.
The season has been a bit erratic, to say the least. But if this team advances, Holloway and Lyons will still be the reason. Holloway scored 21 points and made four 3s in the win over Lehigh in the third round. Lyons wasn’t as productive, but he still made his presence felt.
Holloway was even more dominant in the win over Notre Dame. He scored 25 points and made an efficient 10 of 15 shots.
Brady Heslip, Baylor: Heslip made nine 3s in the win over Colorado on Saturday. But the Musketeers are certainly going to defend him a bit tighter than the Buffs. Heslip still can deliver a dagger if he’s open. The key will be to not play off him at any point.
“Any guy that can score 27 points in the NCAA tournament without dribbling, he’s a really good player,’’ Holloway said. “He’s a great player. We have a lot of respect for not only him, but the Baylor team.’’
“We have to make him take tough shots, because if he gets open, it’s more than likely going to go down,’’ Lyons said. “You’ve got to be ready to chase him.’’
What to watch
Kenny Frease vs. the Baylor bigs: Frease will have his hands full Friday night. The Xavier center has to stay out of foul trouble. He’ll get some help from forward Andre Walker, but Frease must keep Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones off the offensive backboard.
If the Musketeers are going to have a chance to win, they must get second shots, too.
“We know the guards are going to be able to help us from the top, but we’ve got to take that responsibility on ourselves to try to contain [Jones] as much as possible,’’ Frease said. “He’ll pose a lot of problems for us, but it will depend on how we handle them.’’
Iona at Loyola (ESPNU, 7 p.m. ET): Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos was peeved that his squad was left out of the TV BracketBusters games. Well, this one is on TV and it’s a shot for the Greyhounds to let the rest of the country know that the more publicized Gaels aren’t the only team in the MAAC. The teams are tied atop the league. This should be the MAAC tournament final, with one of the two earning the bid in Springfield, Mass., next month.
Louisville at West Virginia (ESPN, noon ET): The Cardinals are rolling while the Mountaineers haven’t been the same since losing to Syracuse and failing to get that goaltending call on Jan. 28. If West Virginia doesn’t stop Louisville in transition, the Mountaineers are in serious trouble. But you have to expect WVU will get this win at home.
Virginia at North Carolina (ESPN3, 1 p.m. ET): The Cavaliers can disrupt the Tar Heels and control the tempo. The key will be how the Heels respond to their disheartening loss Wednesday to Duke. UNC is the more talented team, but are the Tar Heels mentally tough enough to bounce back and beat a disciplined Cavs squad?
Miami at Florida State (ESPN3, 1 p.m. ET): The Seminoles had to take care of business against the bottom of the ACC. But they didn’t for the second time when they were stunned at Boston College on Wednesday. Miami comes in on a roll after following up its win Sunday over Duke with a victory over Virginia Tech on Thursday. This could be one of the most evenly matched ACC games -- not involving Duke or Carolina -- the rest of the conference season.
Connecticut at Syracuse (1 p.m. ET): The Huskies need to show some pride and play well at Syracuse. Orange coach Jim Boeheim wasn’t at all pleased with his team’s effort Wednesday against Georgetown. UConn, meanwhile, is coming off a brutal performance Monday at Louisville. The Orange have more talent, depth and experience. UConn needs to create havoc on the defensive end to have a shot and Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi better play one of their best games to control the post.
Baylor at Missouri (ESPN3, 1:30 p.m. ET): The Bears got worked over by Kansas at home; Missouri is coming off a gritty victory at Oklahoma after beating Kansas in Columbia last Saturday. Separation has occurred in the Big 12, with Missouri and Kansas a game ahead of Baylor. The Bears had better find a way to defend. Missouri already proved it can win against a taller set. If Missouri wins, Baylor would not have beaten Mizzou or Kansas this season.
VCU at Old Dominion (2 p.m. ET): This should come as no surprise: VCU is on a roll and atop the CAA with Drexel and George Mason. ODU is a game behind after losing last week at Mason. If the Monarchs want a shot at the CAA title, they probably have to win this game. ODU gets one more shot at one of the leaders, hosting Drexel to end the season. All four are postseason teams, but only one might be in the NCAAs.
Wyoming at New Mexico (3:30 p.m. ET): The Lobos won where UNLV could not -- at Wyoming. New Mexico has quietly put together a potential MWC title season. UNM is tied with UNLV and a game behind San Diego State. This is another chance to stay in stride with the Rebels and Aztecs.
San Diego State at UNLV (4 p.m. ET): The Aztecs knocked off the Rebels in the final second Jan. 14 at Viejas Arena. Each has suffered a surprising road loss since, at Colorado State and Wyoming, respectively. Thomas & Mack will be rocking. The key will be if the Aztecs can again keep the Rebs off the backboards in key moments.
Wichita State at Creighton (ESPN2, 5 p.m. ET): The Bluejays are reeling, by their Missouri Valley standards, after losing two straight. Wichita State lost at home to Creighton on Dec. 31, and if the Shockers want to win the Valley regular-season title, they need to win this game. Don’t be surprised if this ends up being game two of three between these two Valley favorites. A meeting in St. Louis seems inevitable.
Kentucky at Vanderbilt (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET): The Wildcats have reached the toughest part of their road schedule -- at Vandy, at Mississippi State and at Florida before the end of the regular season. The Commodores certainly have the talent, experience and some beef to deal with Kentucky. But can they finish against UK, or any elite team? Vandy isn’t going to win the SEC. But this is a huge confidence game for the NCAAs.
Xavier at Temple (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET): The Musketeers have been erratic. Temple hasn’t always been healthy. The Owls appear to be the front-runners in the A-10 -- at least at this point -- but X can upstage Temple with a victory in Philadelphia. This could be a decisive win for the Owls in their quest to win the league outright.
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