Welcome to the Sweet 16! We've narrowed the field all the way down from 68, and one lucky team from this game will move on to the Elite Eight to take on the winner of the Kentucky versus Indiana matchup.
Don't get me wrong, though, this isn't necessarily a happy or congratulatory article. While moving on to the Elite Eight will be a great achievement for one of these teams, there's just no time for me to celebrate what is likely to be the beginning of the end.
One of these teams will be knocked out in this round, obviously, but the winner of this game shouldn't get comfortable because they''ll be out soon enough.
While this statement may sound pessimistic, dark or even downright rude, I have to stand firmly by my beliefs. Sorry Baylor and Xavier fans—the truth is sometimes hard to take.
Well, Xavier, you had a nice run in the NCAA Tournament, but all good things have to come to an end at some point. Now is your time.
During the regular season, Xavier was an odd team to get a good grip on. After starting the season with eight straight victories, Xavier and Cincinnati took part in what has become the infamous fight of the season. Since then, Xavier has gone 15-12, and while they have lost plenty of their games to teams worth losing to, they certainly have racked up some bad losses as well.
Xavier returned to form during the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament, knocking off Saint Louis and Dayton in the first two rounds before losing to upset-minded St. Bonaventure in the final. Xavier's inconsistent play resulted in a meager 10-seed, but that turned out to be the best luck they could have had.
Xavier drew an overrated Notre Dame squad in the "second" round (their first game, I know, it feels weird calling it the second round), who they were able to squeak by, 67-63. Then, to everyone's surprise, Lehigh was able to upset a superior Duke squad, making Xavier's third-round matchup easier than it should have been.
However, Xavier now faces their toughest challenge of the Tournament: a Baylor squad that is finally putting it all together. Xavier center Kenny Frease is coming off his best game of the season (25 points, 12 rebounds), and he is going to have to keep that up in order to give his team a chance.
Baylor's front-court is hard to match. Freshman Quincy Miller, sophomore Perry Jones III and senior Quincy Acy are the catalysts that really make the Bears go. When you add in junior point guard Pierre Jackson and sophomore sharpshooter Brady Heslip, the Bears are an offensive powerhouse that is tough to stop.
Xavier is going to be outmatched, and while I do think Tu Holloway is going to do anything he can to keep his team in this game, the outcome won't be in his favor.
Sorry, Xavier. You gave it a good shot.
As it turns out, this slide may seem hypocritical since I just praised Baylor's offensive firepower. However, there's absolutely no telling what Baylor team is going to show up to what game.
The Bears looked next to unstoppable while they won their first 17 games of the season, but since then, the Bears have gone just 12-7, only losing to the other Big 12 NCAA Tournament teams. These may seem like "good" losses because they're all good teams, but it just tells me that the Bears have trouble winning big games.
Their inability to win big games consistently makes me draw the line at the Elite Eight with the Bears. Also, inconsistent play from their biggest stars makes it hard to buy into this Baylor squad going all the way.
While Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller may be lottery picks in this year's NBA draft, they are still as raw and inconsistent as they come, especially Jones. Jones really turned it on during the Big 12 Tournament, but he's been virtually non-existent in the Bears' first two NCAA Tournament games.
Against Colorado in the third-round, Baylor got a huge night out of Brady Heslip, as the shooting guard's nine three-pointers propelled the Bears to an 80-63 victory, but how often is that going to happen? Point guard Pierre Jackson was the only other Bear in double-digits, scoring 15 points while dishing out 10 assists.
If the Bears can get that kind of production out of at least two of their starters again, then I don't see them having a huge problem with Xavier, but they'll need more than that against their opponent in the Elite Eight.
Speaking of which...
I know, I know. Kentucky still has to get by Indiana before they even run into Baylor, but it's hard to believe that the Wildcats won't exact their revenge on the Hoosiers. They're playing too well right now.
Admittedly, I think a potential Kentucky versus Baylor Elite Eight matchup has the potential to be a really solid game. Kentucky would still be the superior team, but at least they would find somebody who could match up with them athletically at each position.
With that being said, I'd still put money on Kentucky winning by double digits before I'd put money on Baylor pulling off an upset. The loss the Wildcats suffered to Vanderbilt in the SEC Conference Tournament Final might have been a good thing, as the Wildcats have been playing out of their minds in the first two games of the NCAA Tournament.
After easily getting by 16-seed Western Kentucky in the second-round, the Wildcats had a seemingly harder task facing them in the third-round. However, any thought of an upset was put to rest early, as the Wildcats crushed Iowa State's hopes and dreams, 87-71.
Kentucky's starting five are all potential first-round draft picks (three for sure, at least), and they're all playing that way. Anthony Davis is still showing why he's the front runner for NCAA Player of the Year, nobody works harder than Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on both ends of the floor, and Terrence Jones is more than capable of going on a scoring run by himself if others aren't hitting shots.
While Kentucky teams in the past have struggled deep in the Tournament due to lack of experience, this team just feels different. They're just so talented at every position—they're going to be a tough out for anybody they face.
So, I'm sorry, Baylor. It's not your fault. If you were in any other region, I'd give you a better chance at advancing. Unfortunately, that's not how your cards fell, and you'll be joining your old pal Xavier rather soon.