The Big 12's Road to the Final Four: New Faces among the Elite
It's the story we expected, but not the actors we thought would play it out.
Instead of Texas dominating opponents and descending on Houston with thousands of fans, it's Baylor. And in lieu of the mighty Jayhawks with Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, it's Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente of Kansas State who have taken center stage.
But this is why we watch, isn't it? We aren't watching to see what we've already seen, we're watching because we want to see something new. That's why this year's tournament is the best in recent memory. This year we burned the brackets early, and because of that we got to focus on the basketball.
And for Baylor and Kansas State, the basketball continues. If they win, we'll have a week to hear about Frank Martin's rise from the AAU ranks and Baylor's return from the brink, so let's talk some hoops for now.
Kansas State vs. Butler
How we got here - Kansas State is like the team the world forgot about by not forgetting about. While we were focusing on Frank Martin's intense faces or making up ridiculous nicknames for Bramlage, we forgot what matters.
This team is really, really good at basketball. They can score inside when they need to, and they feature a backcourt duo can absolutely pour it in, but more than that they defend. They do more than limit their opponents, they anger them.
The case for the Wildcats - On paper, this is pretty easy. Kansas State has more good players than Butler. Also, while the main keys to beating Syracuse are patience and mental focus, playing Kansas State is a whole different animal.
Butler is going to need to handle the ball pressure and limit their turnovers to have a chance to get this win.
The case for the Bulldogs - Hell, Butler hasn't lost since Christmas; why start now? They've blitzed through UTEP, survived Murray State, and killed Syracuse down the stretch by going on an 11-0 run and ending the game before the Orange even knew what happened.
Baylor vs. Duke
How we got here - Where to start?
I'm not even sure how we got here, and I probably watch more Baylor Basketball than anyone outside of Waco. If Baylor wins, I'll write a whole article on this, but I'm going to focus on what I think has been the biggest key to the Bears' success this season, and that's Scott Drew getting out of his own way.
Instead of trying to mash pieces into what he wants to do, he let the pieces fall in on their own. Lace Dunn, Anthony Jones, and Josh Lomers could never play elite defense in a man-to-man. But by using a zone, Drew funnels opposing offenses into someone who can, Ekpe Udoh. They chase shooters off the line, and force them to Ekpe.
This accomplishes any number of things. The biggest two being that it allows Ekpe to guard everyone on the court instead of just one man, and by not forcing Tweety and Lace to chase people around, they can play practically the whole game without wearing down.
The case for the Bears - Lace and Tweety are match-up problems on their own, but who the heck is going to guard Udoh? The Plumlees? Zoubek? Yikes.
If they can't control Ekpe, they're going to have to double him, and that's not a good situation to be in. Drew will pull Lomers out, put Acy in, and then you're either going to get tomahawked on by Acy or rained on by the guards.
The case for the Blue Devils - As popular has Baylor has gotten lately, they have only played double-digit seeds so far. In fact, on this "magical run" that they're on, the best team they've beaten was Texas A&M, back in February.
Duke is no St. Mary's. They can hit mid-range shots, which could pull Udoh out from the basket, and they can rotate the ball well enough against the zone they should get some open looks from deep.
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