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 (26-2) vs. No. 2 Houston (28-3), 4:14 p.m. CT, Saturday, TV: CBS
National Semifinal Game
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana.
National rankings: Baylor: No. 3 (AP), No. 3 (USA Today); Houston: No. 6 (AP); No. 6 (USA Today).
Path to March Madness: Baylor: At-large berth (lost in Big 12 Tournament semifinals); Houston: Automatic berth (won American Athletic Conference Tournament).
NCAA Tournament history: Baylor and Houston have never met in the NCAA Tournament. But they are former rivals from their time in the Southwest Conference and have met 53 times. The Cougars and Bears have not met since 2002.
2021 NCAA Tournament Results: Baylor: def. Hartford, 79-55 (first round); def. Wisconsin, 76-63 (second round); def. Villanova, 62-51 (Sweet 16); def. Arkansas, 81-72 (Elite Eight); Houston: def. Cleveland State, 87-56 (first round); def. Rutgers, 63-60 (second round); def. Syracuse, 62-46 (Sweet 16); def. Oregon State, 67-61 (Elite Eight).
Winner: Advances to the national championship game on Monday.
Projected starting lineups
Baylor: G Jared Butler, G Davion Mitchell, G MaCio Teague, G Mark Vital, F Flo Thamba.
Houston: G Marcus Sasser, G DeJon Jarreau, G Quentin Grimes, F Justin Gorham, F Reggie Chaney.
Player to watch
Baylor: The Bench
This tweet from Colt Barber at SicEm 365 caught my attention on Tuesday:
So let’s highlight Adam Flagler, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, and Matthew Mayer going into the national semifinal game. All three have played valuable roles in this season and in the NCAA Tournament. As highlighted in the Elite Eight preview, Flagler is the guard who has come off the bench all season and seems to pick up the slack if one of the starters has issues. Against Arkansas, Davion Mitchell was caught up in foul trouble in the first half, and Flagler helped keep the Bears’ momentum going and finished with seven points in 20 minutes. In the Sweet 16 he had 16 points off the bench. Mayer is the Bears’ most skilled offensive forward and he’s a quality 3-point shooter and defender. He’s averaged 8.2 points this season, but against Wisconsin in the second round he popped up with 17 points and six rebounds. Tchamwa Tchatchoua comes off the bench for Thamba and is the floor-running alternative to Thamba’s more traditional, physical forward. Against Arkansas he had eight points and six rebounds. These three players will come off the bench for the Bears on Saturday, and depending on the situation, they give Baylor tremendous versatility.
Houston: G Quentin Grimes
Kansas could have used him this season. Yep, Baylor fans remember Grimes, who was at Kansas last season before he decided to transfer to Houston. It wasn’t that hard a sell for Grimes to go back to Houston, as he’s from The Woodlands, a northern suburb of the city. With the Cougars he’s emerged as their leading scorer this season with 18 points per game. He’s chipped in 5.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 41.2 percent from the 3-point line. He was named the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and a third-team All-American, and remains a finalist for the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year award. He’s had a quality NCAA Tournament, averaging 18 points per game and recording at least two steals in three of his four Tournament games. Houston has a great team, but an off-night from Grimes could be trouble. Fortunately for the Cougars, that rarely happens.
Right now in the NCAA Tournament
Baylor: The Bears are in the Final Four for the first time since the 1950 Tournament, when the Bears lost to Bradley in the national semifinals and then lost to North Carolina State in the third-place game. Two years before that, in 1948, the Bears missed out on a national championship, losing to Kentucky in the title game. Those tournaments featured just eight teams. It took the Bears 60 years to get close to the Final Four again, as the Bears reached the Elite Eight in 2010 before losing to Duke. Two years later, the Bears reached the Round of Eight again, but fell to Kentucky. It’s a seismic moment for the program, which has now won nine of its last 11 since a COVID-19 pause caused the program to shut down for more than two weeks as the disease infected eight players. The Bears are one of the most efficient teams in the country on both offense and defense, and the latter really showed up against Arkansas, as the Bears forced 15 turnovers and scored 26 points off those miscues. The Bears shot 48 percent in that game, but at one point they shot 71 percent and had an 18-point lead before the Razorbacks came roaring back. MaCio Teague had 22 points, including a pair of huge 3’s that pushed the Bears back to a double-digit lead in the final three minutes. Davion Mitchell battled foul trouble and sat for a good portion of the first half, but still had 12 points and six assists. Jared Butler bounced back from a sub-par Sweet 16 game against Villanova to finish with 14 points and five assists. Every Bear that played scored, and that’s a good sign going into the Final Four.
Houston: Like the Bears, it’s been a while since the Cougars had this stage, but not nearly as long as Baylor. The Cougars are making their sixth trip to the Final Four, but their first since 1984. Under head coach Guy V. Lewis the Cougars made five Final Four appearances. The 1967 and 1968 teams were led by Elvin Hayes, and both of those runs ended with losses to the John Wooden-coached UCLA Bruins, with Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in the pivot. In the 1980s, Lewis led the Cougars back to the Final Four in 1982, 1983 and 1984, anchored by Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon, Clyde ‘The Glide’ Drexler, and the rest of the ‘Phi Slama Jamma’ fraternity. The Cougars reached the national championship game twice, falling to Jim Valvano’s ‘Survive and Advance’ North Carolina State Wolfpack in 1983 and Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas in 1984. Head coach Kelvin Sampson has resurrected the program. This is its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance under him, and the Cougars had made only four appearances from 1987-2010. The Cougars are much more than Grimes. Marcus Sasser — the nephew of former Texas Tech star Jason Sasser and former SMU star Jeryl Sasser — averages 13.5 points per game and scored 22 points against Oregon State. DeJon Jarreau had a triple-double earlier this season and averages 10.8 points per game. He also leads the Cougars in assists with 4.4 per game. Justin Gorham is a dangerous forward who averages eight points and eight rebounds per game.
I’ll keep rolling with Baylor. Now, Houston is a highly efficient team. Per the KenPom rankings, the Cougars entered the tournament No. 8 in offensive efficiency and No. 16 in defensive efficiency. So the Cougars are going to be Baylor’s equal on both sides of the floor. This is a good matchup. They each play the pace the other wants. The personnel in the starting lineups match up well. The significant advantage that Baylor has is the Bears shoot the 3-pointer about five percent better than the Cougars, and only one Houston starter — Grimes — shoots better than 40 percent. Four of Baylor’s top eight players shoot better than 40 percent, and a fifth, Teague, is just under 40 percent. In a game where both teams will get what they want, I think Baylor’s renewed touch from the 3-point line will be the difference.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard
**Want to win a $20 gift card? Go sign up here and join our conversation! The best poster each week wins a gift card to your favorite establishment!**