By Will Chamblee | Sports Writer
Baylor men’s basketball will look to continue its run in the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 seeded Bears will take on No. 5 seed Villanova in the Sweet 16 at 4:15 p.m. Saturday in historic Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The game will be televised on CBS.
This will mark the first time Baylor has advanced to the Sweet 16 since 2017, when No. 3 seed Baylor lost 70-50 to No. 7 seed South Carolina. The Wildcats last made the third round in 2018 as a No. 1 seed during their run to the program’s third national championship.
So far, Baylor has been convincing in its first two matchups in the NCAA Tournament. The Bears cast aside No. 16 seed Hartford 79-55 and took down No. 9 seed Wisconsin 76-63. Senior guard MaCio Teague said the opportunity to practice and play has allowed Baylor to find a rhythm the Bears have been missing since they went on a 21-day COVID-19 pause in February and March.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the fact that we’re not traveling, I would just say it’s practicing,” Teague said. “We really didn’t have much time to go over things and build our chemistry back up after pausing for three weeks.”
Villanova will pose a tougher test than the previous two teams Baylor has faced. The Wildcats finished the regular season with a 16-5 record, narrowly winning the Big East regular-season championship over fellow No. 5 seed Creighton. Villanova’s resume boasts impressive wins over Creighton, No. 3 seed Texas and No. 7 seed Connecticut. However, the Wildcats lost their starting senior guard Collin Gillespie near the end of the season to a knee injury.
Without Gillespie, who ranked second on the team in scoring, the Wildcats lost their final two games before the NCAA Tournament, dropping a 54-52 contest to Providence and falling 72-71 in the first round of the Big East Tournament to Georgetown.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright has seemed to figure out how to replace Gillespie, as the Wildcats have posted convincing victories in the first two rounds of March Madness over No. 12 seed Winthrop and No. 13 seed North Texas.
“I think they’re getting comfortable with the personnel they have,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said about Villanova. “Great teams always adapt, and Villanova is a great team. They have a great coach. You knew they would figure it out.”
The Wildcats will be led by sophomore forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Robinson-Earl leads the team, averaging 16 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Drew identified Robinson-Earl as the player that Baylor will have to watch on both ends of the court.
“We saw him a year ago, and he was a great player then, and he’s improved now. He’s even better,” Drew said. “There’s a reason he’s going to be in the NBA at some point. Guys with his size, athleticism, skill set — they don’t come around often.”
Should Baylor beat Villanova, the Bears would advance to their first Elite Eight since 2012 and third in program history. They would play the winner of No. 3 seed Arkansas and No. 15 seed Oral Roberts on Monday, with the program’s first Final Four appearance since 1950 on the line.