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NCAA Tournament: Three reasons why Baylor men can win the national title

Erick Smith, USA TODAY
·3 min read
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Sunday's action in the men's NCAA Tournament gave a lesson in why not all No. 1 seeds are created equal.

Baylor was dominant in running past what was potentially a tricky matchup with Wisconsin, two days after the Badgers had been impressive against North Carolina in the first round.

Illinois, meanwhile, saw its national championship hopes go up in flames as it failed to mange the unique challenge of playing Loyola Chicago.

It's easy to overlook the tricky nature of the second round for the top seeds. You're certain to get an eight or nine seed off a win. That opponent has done the vast majority of its advance preparation on your team, while you have had to split that time between two teams.

The Fighting Illini loss was the sixth in the last eight tournaments for a No. 1 seed in the second round. That doesn't count 2018, when Virginia lost before the second round.

Baylor's Mark Vital (11) dunks against Wisconsin during the first half in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Baylor's Mark Vital (11) dunks against Wisconsin during the first half in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Which brings us back to Baylor. The Bears never let Wisconsin get started and showed why they are a cut above the rest of the field, along with Gonzaga. There's no reason to think this team won't be in the Final Four for the first time since 1950 and playing the Bulldogs for the title.

Here are three reasons why:

Guard play. Guard play. Guard play.

You hear it every year in the tournament because it is true. Teams with great guards have an advantage. And Baylor is blessed with one of the best backcourts in the country.

Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell are the top three scorers for the Bears, and the trio complements each other well. Butler, a first-team All-American, provides points and great defense. Mitchell leads the team in assists and all regulars in three-point shooting percentage. What makes them cohesive is that each is willing to sacrifice for each other and the focus is on winning. They're a hard matchup for any team.

Three-point shooting

College basketball teams rely on the three-point shot to put pressure on defenses to stretch out to shooters. That opens up driving lanes and gives space to interior offense.

Nobody in the country shoots from behind the arc better than Baylor, which makes more than 41% of its attempts and hits more than 10 per game. What makes the Bears so difficult to guard is their shooting comes from many sources. Mitchell, as mentioned above, leads in percentage, but Mitchell and Teague also are consistent threats.

There's also insurance if any of the starters go cold. Both Adam Flager and Matthew Mayer can come off the bench and are dangerous if defenses leave them alone. It's one of the main reasons the Bears average almost 84 points per game.

Been here before

At at time when the best players typically are off to the NBA after their sophomore seasons, Baylor is blessed with a starting lineup of three juniors and two seniors.

That maturity is critical in a one-and-done format of the tournament where every game is tense. Emotions can run high, and having a core of players who have all been there before means the Bears are less likely to get too high and too low. They have seen a lot, including the season shutting down last year when they were poised to be one of the top seeds. Everyone returned for this run, and they're going to make the most of it.

There's also the physical advantage of being older. Baylor is one of the more athletic teams in the country. It's also not going to get pushed around. Senior guard/forward Mark Vital at 6-5 and 250 pounds brings an aggressive approach that typifies the team's style.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Baylor Bears men, a No. 1 seed, can win national title. Here's why.