The South Region saw a pair of massive upsets, but the No. 6 seed Creighton Bluejays (22-12, 17-17-0 ATS) and No. 3 seed Baylor Bears (23-10, 17-15-1 ATS) both won and covered in their NCAA Tournament openers. Now, a trip to the Sweet 16 is at stake for these talented programs. They are one of two games in Ball Arena on Sunday, and they'll get the party started at 7:10 p.m. EST. Let's see which side will successfully punch their ticket to Louisville next weekend.
Kalk SmashA career day from Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner proved to be plenty, as the Bluejays used a second-half surge sparked by him to beat NC State 72-63. Kalkbrenner had a career-high (and Creighton NCAA Tournament record) 31 points, along with seven rebounds and three blocks. They had an uncharacteristic shooting performance from beyond the arc, but imposing defense and paint presence carried them into the Second Round.
It wasn't all sunshine though, as bench piece Mason Miller got injured in the first half and is questionable for this game. The Bluejays' depth was already pretty thin.
👀Career high points for @RyanKalkbrenner#GoJays x #Marcadness pic.twitter.com/Oj0XPwTst3— Creighton Men’s Basketball (@BluejayMBB) March 17, 2023
Creighton is the lower seed but is actually above Baylor in KenPom's ratings at 13. Their defense is 14th in adjusted efficiency, led by holding their foes to 42.0% shooting this season, ranking 75th in that department. Only two schools nationwide allowed opponents to take fewer free throws than Creighton, and both of those schools lost in the First Round.
Offensively, Creighton is 29th in KenPom's adjusted efficiency ratings. Free throws can make or break a season, and the Bluejays are 18th in the country in free throw percentage at 77.2%. They shoot 46.7% from the field, which is 55th.
Baylor Bears Down in Second HalfThere was a lot of noise about a potential upset when Baylor went into the locker room down by one at halftime against UCSB. Well, Baylor showed up early in the second half and proceeded to outscore UCSB 35-15 over the final 17:30 of the second half, winning the game 74-56. The Bears finished the game +5 in turnovers, +6 on the glass, and +8.0% in field goal percentage. Adam Flagler was a flamethrower, going 7-10 for 18 points, while also adding a team-high five assists.
💣💣💣#SicEm | #CultureOfJOY pic.twitter.com/FaY8m3Rb6d— Baylor Men’s Basketball (@BaylorMBB) March 17, 2023
The 14th-best team in the nation according to KenPom, the offense carried Baylor through most of the season. They are second in adjusted offensive efficiency, also via KenPom, aided by college basketball's 36th-best three-point percentage. Although they struggled on Friday, Baylor is also 64th nationally in free throw percentage.
Their defense that dominated the second half of Friday's game is only 98th in adjusted efficiency this season. Like Creighton, they typically avoid sending opposing players to the charity stripe. The final rebounding margin usually finishes in Baylor's favor also.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Does Baylor have anyone that can stop Ryan Kalkbrenner? Unlike NC State, they have the size, with starter Flo Thamba, but I don't think he's good enough to hang with Kalkbrenner. If he gets in foul trouble, Baylor's options are either a freshman or a size mismatch. Unlike certain schools, Creighton knows how to feed their big men when they've got a good matchup. Then there's Creighton's three-point shooting, which is due to improve significantly from their Thursday performance. Baylor's defense is much worse than Creighton's, and their offensive output won't be able to offset that against another dangerous offensive squad. The spread is only one point, so the best value is in taking Creighton to win straight up.
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Full-Game Total Pick
In Creighton's last five games against teams that have a winning percentage over .600, four of them have finished under the total. Against opponents that have won at least 60% of their games, the under has hit in seven of the last nine games for Baylor. Neither team plays at a crazy tempo, and both sides are talented enough to take over a game on either end of the floor. It's March though, and coaches preach defense in the Big Dance. I expect the same for this one, and it may be tight, but the under should hit.