Villanova held serve against two mid-majors to earn their way to the Sweet 16 on Saturday evening, but the competition takes a big step up with a matchup with No. 1 seed Baylor.
We touched base with Kendall Kaut of Our Daily Bears, SB Nation’s Baylor site, to get a feel for the matchup.
After missing out on the opportunity to be a 1-seed last year, and then being on that line again, how would you describe the expectations for the team and the fanbase? Would a Final Four berth be enough, or is this a national championship or bust situation?
Always tough to know what some people will feel. This is certainly the best Baylor team ever, and while you never want to limit the future, this is probably the best team Baylor will ever have. The Bears could earn a No. 1 seed again, or win the title as a lower seed—2014 Connecticut makes anything possible—but this is the best shot.
With that said, the program won its first Big 12 title ever. The Bears haven’t made the Final Four since 1950.
Having won the Big 12, anything from here could be acceptable. But I think there will be legitimate disappointment if the Bears don’t at least make the Final Four with a team this good.
Going into the tournament, what were the types of matchups that worried you? What teams were you looking to avoid on the way to a Final Four?
I just wanted to avoid Loyola. I said when the bracket came out that Illinois got absolutely screwed, and then predicted that Loyola would beat them that morning (I also predicted Iraq had WMD’s, so I’m not 100%). The best way to match-up with Baylor is to have good mobile bigs that can shoot—which obviously Villanova does—but then guards that can handle pressure and also pressure at the same time. Gonzaga is really the only team that meets all those criteria.
Villanova is certainly good enough to beat Baylor. The Wildcats would have knocked off just about anybody if they shot as well as they did against the Mean Green.
Villanova was on the wrong end of a Baylor shooting barrage last November in Myrtle Beach so we’re very familiar with the names and faces. Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell are both All-Americans, but which one do you think is more critical to Baylor’s success? Who would you consider the “head of the snake” for an opponent to focus on?
It’s a tough choice. I would say Butler. Offense is more important than defense, but Mitchell does ruin guys. Mike Schmitz of ESPN said last night that Mitchell may be the best on-ball defender he’s ever evaluated. He earned the moniker “off night” for that.
But few guys are as capable of going off for as many points and assists as Butler. He’s also a very good defender, finishing on the All-Big 12 defensive team, and earning one of 15 slots on the earlier Naismith Defensive Player of the Year list.
I would not quibble with anyone picking Mitchell, and some would. That speaks to how good this backcourt is. I think it’s probably the best one since at least the last Nova title team.
I have Baylor 80-72, as I think the Bears manage to force a few more turnovers than normal and pull away in the second half before Villanova makes a lot run.