Baylor vs. UC Santa Barbara NCAA Tournament Preview and Prediction
Here is everything you need to know about Baylor and UC Santa Barbara in our Bears vs. Gauchos NCAA Tournament men’s basketball preview and prediction. The Bears won the 2021 National Championship, but last season lost in the second round to the UNC Tar Heels.
South Region – First Round
Game Info: Friday, 12:30 p.m. CT, TNT
How They Got Here: Baylor was the third-best team in the best conference in basketball while UC Santa Barbara took home a Big West title giving both teams an entrance into the NCAA Tournament.
Winner Gets: A second-round game against the winner of the game between Creighton and N.C. State.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS
UC Santa Barbara: G Ajay Mitchell, G Calvin Wishart, F J. Pierre-Louis, F Andre Kelly, F Miles Norris.
Baylor: G LJ Cryer, G Adam Flagler, G Keyonte George, F Jalen Bridges, F Flo Thamba.
PLAYER TO WATCH
UC Santa Barbara
G Ajay Mitchell: Mitchell is the reigning Big West Player of the Year and after taking a look at his numbers, it’s easy to see why. Mitchell earned All-Big West First Team honors as a Sophomore this season and has averaged 20.4 PPG in his last five outings. For this season, Mitchell averaged 16.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He is one of the main reasons the Gauchos not only won the Big West Tournament this year, but also the reason the team earned a tournament bid for March Madness.
F Jalen Bridges: I know it’s a safer pick to go with someone like Keyonte George or Adam Flagler with this pick however I really think this is the most intriguing option. Bridges had the best game of his career against Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament where he scored 28 points on 90.9% shooting. Bridges has worked his way into a reliable starting role with the Bears after averaging 14 PPG over his last five outings. This season Bridges has averaged 10.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.0 steals per game. I’m interested to see if the hot streak continues for Bridges and in the event it does, Scott Drew will likely make it a point of emphasis to give him the ball against the Gauchos.
UC Santa Barbara
The matchup between the Gauchos and the Bears is a classic example of the difference in conference play. While UC Santa Barbara has more than earned their bid to the 2023 NCAA Tournament as a 14-seed, they will have to scale the massive wall that is the Bears. This marks just the sixth time in program history that the Gauchos have earned a tournament bid and in the past, things haven’t gone smoothly for UCSB. The Gauchos are 1-6 all time in the NCAA Tournament but with the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year leading your squad in Ajay Mitchell, Cinderella certainly has a chance to hear the music. The biggest thing to focus on is in this contest is the difference in opponent play during the regular season. Will the Gauchos be ready to face off against one of the best programs in all of college basketball over the last decade? How will they fair against Big 12 competition?
I worry about this Baylor squad because of the inconsistent play we’ve seen from them all year long. It’s one thing to say that they play in the Big 12 Conference where any team can win but it worries me when you see moments as high as beating the two-seed Texas Longhorns and the one-seed Kansas Jayhawks by a combined 15 points during the regular season, then moments as low as getting swept by Iowa State in all three games this year by a combined 36 points. Scott Drew has a proven track record of success with the Bears as they were crowned national champions in the 2021 season and has made several big runs in the last decade. While the Bears have an excess of championship DNA in their building, the Gauchos are good enough to take down a giant in the event that Baylor has an off day which is why I feel it’s important that the Bears get out to an early lead and don’t try to play with their food.
Baylor 77, UC Santa Barbara 65. I don’t see Scott Drew and the Bears losing here. The Bears have much more experience in March, and while anyone can win in a one-game scenario, I think the Big 12 Conference is going to look great in the first round.