Looking to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16, No. 3 Baylor and No. 6 Creighton square off on Sunday night in Denver.
After a shaky first half, Baylor dominated against UC Santa Barbara en route to an 18-point win.
Creighton struggled from the perimeter, but rode its way to a victory against NC State behind Ryan Kalkbrenner’s domination.
With No. 2 Arizona eliminated, the winner of this game would seemingly have a solid matchup and be favored ahead of a possible Elite 8 berth.
Here’s how to bet this bout between two of KenPom’s top-15 teams, with Baylor entering as slight favorites.
Plain and simple, Kalkbrenner is a matchup nightmare. The 7-foot-1 big made light work of D.J. Burns Jr. en route to a 31-point afternoon and has yet another enticing matchup against a soft Baylor interior defense.
Kalkbrenner is No. 1 in the country in both eFG% and TS% and shoots 70.3% on 2-point field goals. Creighton runs a heavy dose of pick-and-roll through its star big, which opens up shooters on the perimeter or open looks inside.
He commands so much attention and often times double teams, creating an advantage for this Bluejays offense that ranks 28th in eFG%. Five players score in double figures and three shoot 35.7% or better from 3.
Though methodical, Creighton’s offense doesn’t attack the offensive glass or draw many fouls. But the Bluejays take care of the ball and normally create open looks.
I wouldn’t be worried by their 3-of-20 night from 3 against NC State — this is a top-100 team in terms of 3pt%. They will continue to fire from the perimeter, especially in catch-and-shoot situations (where they rank 34th, per ShotQuality).
Defensively, Creighton forces opponents off the perimeter and into the mid-range. It’s often attacked in the pick-and-roll — No. 1 frequency at 27% — with Kalkbrenner dropping in coverage and the on-ball defender coming over the top and forcing the opposition inside.
Kalkbrenner is a rim deterrent — 2.2 blocks per game — and Creighton, as a whole, ranks 35th in PnR success, per ShotQuality. There’s a lot to love about this Bluejays defense that ranks inside the top 10 in defending transition, finishes at the rim and catch-and-shoot 3s.
Creighton won’t force turnovers. Int fact, it’s one of the worst teams in the country in that category. But it’s physical on-ball, doesn’t foul and is among the best defensive rebounding teams in the nation.
Second-chance opportunities will be slim against this frontcourt thanks to Kalkbrenner and Baylor Scheierman (team-high 8.3 rebounds per game).
Baylor’s Round of 64 game was a tale of two halves. In a 3 vs. 14 matchup against UC Santa Barbara, the Gauchos gave the Bears a run for their money, even leading at the break.
But the UCSB offense went AWOL in the second half and Baylor steamrolled en route to an 18-point victory.
What was most surprising was the Bears’ success inside, scoring on nearly 70% of their 2-point attempts.
All season long, Baylor has been extremely reliant on its three-headed monster of Keyonte George, Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer. George is the primary option, with Flagler and Cryer both connecting on over 40% of 3s.
This is one of the best offenses in the country when it’s on. The Bears are second in efficiency, shoot 3s over 45% of the time and are an offensive rebounding machine. They crash the glass hard and oftentimes create second-chance opportunities or kick outs back toward the perimeter.
To create its offense, Baylor runs pick-and-roll on 20% of offensive plays. It often leads to mid-range jumpers or 3s, as its frontcourt is rarely able to find success. The Bears are 279th in finishes at the rim, per ShotQuality, and 215th in the PnR.
Shot creation will be key from Baylor’s backcourt on Sunday, as Creighton will force them to make mid-range jumpers throughout.
The issue lies within Baylor’s frontcourt. Interior defense is an extreme weakness, as the Bears rank 315th in 2-point defense. They’re just inside that 300 mark in defensive rebounding, but they’re often bullied inside by taller, stronger and aggressive frontcourts.
Despite ranking inside the top 100 in 3-point% on the defensive end, Baylor is actually 220th in catch-and-shoot 3s. It’s an average pick-and-roll defense that can be exploited by hot shooting and second-chance opportunities.
Baylor finds more success off the dribble and in isolation.
This is the perfect time to sell Baylor. After barely escaping UC Santa Barbara, it draws an incredibly difficult matchup against Kalkbrenner and Creighton.
We’ve already seen Kalkbrenner against NC State’s frontcourt, and now he draws a soft Baylor interior defense. The Bears will likely be forced to double Kalkbrenner, which’ll open up plenty of shooting lanes on the perimeter.
I expect a much better shooting performance from 3 out of Trey Alexander (0/4), Ryan Nembhard (0/3) and Scheierman (2/8). Baylor’s defensive woes are a clear issue and one that nearly cost it against UCSB.
I’ve discussed at length how I have Creighton coming out of this region, and my opinion on this game hasn’t wavered. The Bluejays are playing better basketball than Baylor and are the all-around better team.
Expect Baylor’s defense to struggle on Sunday night. It’s offense also relies on creating second-chance opportunities, and that shouldn’t come easy against a Creighton team that’s extremely efficient on the defensive glass.
Creighton holds the advantage on multiple fronts in this matchup, and I have it favored in this matchup. Back the Bluejays to (-1).
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