The Baylor Bears will play the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Elite Eight of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Monday. Here is a preview of the game.
No. 1 Baylor (25-2) vs. No. 3 Arkansas (25-6), 8:57 p.m. CT, Monday, TV: CBS
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana.
National rankings: Baylor: No. 3 (AP), No. 3 (USA Today); Arkansas: No. 10 (AP); No. 10 (USA Today).
Path to March Madness: Baylor: At-large berth (lost in Big 12 Tournament semifinals); Arkansas: At-large berth (lost in SEC Tournament semifinals).
NCAA Tournament history: Baylor and Arkansas have never met in the NCAA Tournament. But they are former rivals from their time in the Southwest Conference.
2021 NCAA Tournament Results: Baylor: def. Hartford, 79-55 (first round); def. Wisconsin, 76-63 (second round); def. Villanova, 62-51 (Sweet 16); Arkansas: def. Colgate, 85-68 (first round); def. Texas Tech, 68-66 (second round); def. Oral Roberts, 72-70 (Sweet 16).
Winner: Advances to the Final Four next weekend.
Projected starting lineups
Baylor: G Jared Butler, G Davion Mitchell, G MaCio Teague, G Mark Vital, F Flo Thamba.
Arkansas: G Moses Moody, G Jalen Tate, G Davonte Davis, F Justin Smith, F Jaylin Williams.
Player to watch
Baylor: G Adam Flagler
Nationally, he’s the ‘forgotten guard’ on this team. But to Baylor fans, they know what he brings to the table, and everyone saw it on Saturday against Villanova. Flagler had a team-high 16 points, and he was the only 3-points shooter that had a good game, going 2-for-3 from the arc, including one in the second half that gave the Bears a 7-point lead. Flagler shot 4-of-6 from the floor and went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line, most of that coming down the stretch. Flagler had scored 18 points in two NCAA Tournament games heading into the Villanova game, including a 12-point effort against Hartford. He’s shooting better than 50 percent from the 3-point line in the NCAA Tournament and expect him to be a factor in Monday’s Elite Eight game once again.
Arkansas: G Jalen Tate
He’s in his fifth year in college basketball and he played like it in the Razorbacks’ two-point win over Oral Roberts on Saturday. Tate showed up with 22 points, four rebounds, six assists, and a steal in the victory. That was well above his season averages of 10.5 points and 3.8 assists per game. He’s coming around after a tepid SEC Tournament in which he scored just four points against Missouri and then three points against LSU. In the first round, against Colgate, the 6-foot-6 senior had 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Then, against Baylor’s Big 12 rival Texas Tech, he scored 10 points, along with three rebounds and two assists, while battling foul trouble. The Oral Roberts game showed he’s an indispensable part of this team and peaking at the right time.
Right now in the NCAA Tournament
The Bears have now won eight of their last 10 games since they returned from their long COVID-19 pause, and are in the Elite Eight for the third time under head coach Scott Drew. After two games in which Baylor looked like the clearly better team, the Bears had some struggles against Villanova. Baylor shot horribly from the 3-point line, with Adam Flagler being the lone exception. Villanova shot well, defended well, and had a seven-point lead at the break. But Baylor showed it can make adjustments when things aren’t working. The Bears crashed the paint on offense, driving the basketball, and feeding it inside whenever possible. Once that helped chip the Villanova lead to two points, the defense took over. The Bears’ defense is overshadowed by its offensive efficiency. But, in a three-minute stretch of the second half, the Bears forced five straight Villanova turnovers and turned a two-point deficit into a six-point lead. From there, the Bears didn’t look back. Baylor showed it had another way to beat you in beating the Wildcats.
Since the beginning of February, the Razorbacks have been on a tear. In fact, their Big 12-SEC Challenge loss to Oklahoma State led to a nine-game winning streak that LSU snapped in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament. But, counting the NCAA Tournament, the Razorbacks have won 12 of their last 13 games. They’ve done it with one of the best freshmen players in the country, Moses Moody, who scored 14 points and had six rebounds against Oral Roberts. He could declare for the NBA Draft after this NCAA Tournament is complete. Along with Jalen Tate and Davonte Davis, the Razorbacks have a trio of guards that can rival what the Bears have. As for the frontcourt, Justin Smith is having a huge NCAA Tournament. He had 12 points and 14 rebounds (11 offensive) against Oral Roberts. It was his second double-double in three NCAA Tournament games and his 15th of the season. Jaylin Williams didn’t give them much out of the other forward position, but with Smith, Davis, Moody, and Tate, the Hogs have four great players that can give opponents fits. Arkansas rallied from 12 down to beat Oral Roberts, and the Razorbacks have done that 10 times this season. They’re never out of a game.
I’ll take Baylor. The Bears haven’t been to a Final Four since 1950. The Razorbacks haven’t been to a Final Four since 1994 when they won their only national championship. This will be the toughest game both of these teams have played all season. The Razorbacks have the advantage in the frontcourt with Justin Smith against Flo Thamba and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua. The pair must keep Smith off the boards. The Bears have the edge in the backcourt with Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague, and Adam Flagler. But that quartet must shoot better from the 3-point line than they did against Villanova. Expect this game to come down to the last possession.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard
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