NCAA Tournament 2014: Game preview for Wisconsin vs. Baylor

Just how good are the Bears, and how do the Badgers match up with them?

The third round of the NCAA Tournament featured some fantastic games and high levels of play around the country. Wisconsin and Oregon played a thriller in Milwaukee. Iowa State and North Carolina dazzled in San Antonio. Ditto for Wichita State and Kentucky in St. Louis.

Baylor did without the breathless drama and simply steamrolled Creighton and the runaway favorite for National Player of the Year Doug McDermott.

In the process of beating the Jays by 30, the Bears held the best three-point shooting team in the country to 5-of-24 using its suffocating matchup zone and then combined it with one of the most efficient offensive performances of the tournament so far. Baylor hit 11-of-18 threes (61.1 percent) and 30-of-47 (63.8 percent) shots overall and got a blistering 1.42 points per possession.

So, what to make of Baylor's win?

The first point is that, like Oregon, BU is playing really well at the right time. For the second straight game, UW gets a team much like itself in the sense that Baylor won 12 of its first 13, then started 2-8 in the Big 12 thanks to a January swoon. Now, the Bears have won 12 of 14, including Kansas State twice, Iowa State, Texas and Oklahoma. The two losses came to UT in Austin and against the Cyclones in the Big 12 Conference Tournament final.

You don't go on that kind of run in a terrific league, nor do you beat a three-seed by 30 in the NCAA tournament by doing just one thing well. Both sides of the ball deserve credit. Here's a look.

Baylor on offense

The Bears have four starters that average double figures in scoring, led by 6'9 senior forward Cory Jefferson (13.9 points per game). Senior guard Brady Heslip has hit 117 threes on the year, good for 42 percent of BU's total of 278. He hit them at a tremendous 46.8 percent clip.

In the post, Baylor's anchored by 7'1 center and former top recruit Isaiah Austin (11.2 points per game). He tied for a team-high 17 points with Heslip against Creighton because the Jays simply did not have an answer for him down low.

BU checks in at No. 6 nationally in Ken Pomoroy's adjusted offensive efficiency stat. For reference, Wisconsin is No. 4 and Oregon is No. 12. Like Wisconsin, though, the Bears don't play a frenetic pace. They're quite deliberate, actually, checking in at No. 326 in Pomoroy's adjusted tempo statistic, which measures pace of play by taking into account the number of possessions played and adjusting for the opponent. (Wisconsin is No. 276). Like the Badgers, they score the ball efficiently given their preferred pace of play.

Baylor on defense

This is where the Bears are really fun to watch, especially on nights when they don't hit 11-of-18 threes. Baylor hangs its hat on a unique zone scheme that looks at times like a traditional 2-3, at other times like a 1-3-1 or 1-1-3 and sometimes basically just looks like an amoeba. It's not a statistically elite unit-BU's ranked No. 77 in adjusted defensive efficiency by Pomoroy, but it's exotic. Defenders run and chase. The defenders on top switch places. In a limited review of their play-along with watching the Creighton game-it appears the Bears run the closest defender to the ball. If the ball is skipped and that means one of the bottom defenders running out to the top, that's what they do. Basically, anybody but Austin in the middle will cover distance and they do it effectively because of their length.

Jefferson hounded McDermott and senior Ethan Wragge by extending on the wing. Creighton's issue was it didn't have much in the way of a post presence-or really a serious threat past their two deadeyes, who accounted for more than 46 percent of the Jays scoring this year.

Texas lost to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament, but used its powerful front line to knock back the aggressiveness of the Bears' defenders. Jefferson and forward Royce O'Neale have the ability to recover and take away guards like Ben Brust who want to shoot over the zone-but they can also get susceptible to the shot fake. The Longhorns created open threes and also easy post-entry looks by getting the forwards to fly by on their closeouts.

The bottom line

So, is Baylor's defense operating on a different level in the NCAA tournament? Was normally sharp-shooting Creighton counter intuitively ill-equipped to exploit the zone? Will the Badgers settle for threes or will they be determined to get good looks in the middle?

The Badgers have the pieces to give Baylor problems. Sam Dekker's been active on the glass and in the middle of the floor in the tournament. Nigel Hayes will almost certainly play more than the 10 minutes he got against Oregon. His mid-range game may be an x-factor.

Frank Kaminsky vs. Austin will be the marquee matchup.

It may be obvious when this stage of the tournament rolls around, especially when you get a matchup featuring teams that have never faced each other before, but this aught to be a good one.

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