A look at the NCAA Tournament matchups set for Friday at Ball Arena in downtown Denver.
No. 3 Baylor (22-10) vs No. 14 UC Santa Barbara (27-7)
Time/TV: 11:30 a.m., TNT
|Baylor||UC Santa Barbara|
|Adjusted off. efficiency (rank)||121.8 (2)||111.2 (71)|
|Adjusted def. efficiency (rank)||101.8 (105)||104.8 (168)|
|Schedule strength||12.84 (5)||-2.65 (225)|
Players to watch: Adam Flagler, Baylor, 6-3, sr. — Freshman Keyonte George might be the NBA Lottery pick, but Flagler is the steady hand for the Bears. A dead-eye shooter from 3-point range (40.3%) and perimeter playmaker (4.7 apg), the all-Big 12 pick could be a second-round steal. Ajay Mitchell, UCSB, 6-4, so. — The Belgium national was named Big West player of the year after averaging 16.4 points and 5.1 assists on a hyper-efficient 50.9% shooting from the field. His 3-point stroke is average, but his decision-making, ball control and finishing ability are exceptional.
About Baylor: Two years removed from winning a national title in the Indianapolis bubble, Scott Drew’s Bears arrive in Denver having lost four of their last six. That stretch closed out an absolutely brutal schedule for Baylor that included 18 games against NCAA tourney teams. The Bears went 8-10 in those, including wins over top-three seeds Kansas, UCLA, Texas and Gonzaga.
The Bears are once again stocked with talent, especially on the perimeter, with Flagler, George and LJ Cryer all averaging 14.5 points/game or more for an offensive that’s second in adjusted offensive efficiency. The question for this team: Can Baylor do enough defensively to make another title run?
About UCSB: The Gauchos are back in the tournament for the second time in three years under coach Joe Pasternack, who’s guided UCSB to 20-plus wins in five of his six seasons in Santa Barbara.
Pasternack’s last tournament team nearly knocked off Creighton in the first round in 2021, losing by one point as a No. 12 seed, and these Gauchos figure to be dangerous, too. They enter the tourney on a seven-game win streak and have the seventh-best field goal percentage (49.3) in the country.
No. 6 Creighton (21-12) vs No. 11 North Carolina State (23-10)
Time/TV: 2 p.m., TNT
|Adjusted off. efficiency (rank)||114.6 (28)||113.8 (36)|
|Adjusted def. efficiency (rank)||93.9 (16)||100.7 (87)|
|Schedule strength||10.35 (15)||4.57 (86)|
Players to watch: Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton, 7-1, jr. — The Bluejays big man leads the nation in field goal percentage (71.4) and is a two-time Big East defensive player of the year. He’s part of a solid front line that includes potential NBA draft picks Arthur Kaluma (6-7, so.) and Baylor Scheierman (6-7, sr.). Terquavion Smith, N.C. State, 6-4, so. — The No. 3 scorer in the ACC this season at 17.5 points/game, Smith is a volume shooter in the extreme with roughly half of his shots (196 of 520, 37.7%) coming from 3-point range (90 of 266, 33.8%). He’s a projected first-round pick.
About Creighton: With all five starters averaging 11.9 points/game or more, the Bluejays have plenty of firepower. But they are also tough on defense, led by Kalkbrenner. Creighton is one of eight teams ranked in the top 30 in both adjusted offensive and defensive effiency.
A six-game losing streak between November and December — a stretch that included three missed games for Kalkbrenner — did damage to Creighton’s record, as did a difficult schedule that included 13 games against NCAA Tournament teams (4-9 record).
About N.C. State: Pundits were scratching their heads at the Wolfpack’s inclusion in the field after a 4-5 stretch to close the season in a down ACC. But with the No. 2 offense in the ACC (78.9 points/game), this team is dangerous.
With a pair of all-ACC guards in Smith and Ole Miss graduate transfer Jarkel Joiner (17.1 ppg, 3.7 apg), the Wolfpack lean heavily on their talented backcourt. The Pack like to get out and run (No. 7 in the nation in average fast break points/game at 15.3), and when they do, good things generally follow. N.C. State is 23-4 when it scores 70 points or more and 0-6 when it doesn’t.
No. 3 Gonzaga (28-5) vs No. 14 Grand Canyon (24-11)
Time/TV: 5:35 p.m., truTV
|Adjusted off. efficiency (rank)||123.9 (1)||112.3 (54)|
|Adjusted def. efficiency (rank)||99.7 (76)||106.3 (200)|
|Schedule strength||7.30 (59)||0.95 (126)|
Players to watch: Julian Strawther, Gonzaga, 6-7, jr. — Six-foot-10 senior post Drew Timme is a three-time All-American (second-team this season), but Strawther is the player most likely to go in the first round of the NBA draft. Long and athletic with a deadly 3-point stroke (42.6%), he’s a great complement to Timme’s low post brilliance. Ray Harrison, GCU, 6-4, so. — The do-everything guard recorded 80 points, 21 rebounds and 23 assists during the Lopes’ four-game WAC Tournament run.
About Gonzaga: The best men’s basketball program on the West Coast for two decades running (24 straight NCAA bids), Mark Few’s Zags have reached the Sweet 16 seven tournaments in a row. While this year’s group hasn’t quite lived up to its No. 2 ranking in the AP preseason poll, it remains immensely talented. The Zags bring the nation’s most efficient offense to Ball Arena at 87.5 points/game on 52.9% shooting.
About GCU: Since joining Division I 10 seasons ago, the private school situated in northwest Phoenix has transformed into a WAC power under former Valparaiso and Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew, going 64-26 over the past three seasons and reaching the NCAA Tournament twice.
The Lopes won four in a row during a surprise run through the WAC Tournament as a No. 5 seed. GCU shot 53.7% from the field, including 48.4% from 3, over its four WAC tourney wins. The Lopes are 15-0 when shooting 50% or better — something they’ve done in their past six games.
No. 6 TCU (21-12) vs No. 11 Arizona State (23-12)
Time/TV: 8:05 pm., truTV
|Adjusted off. efficiency (rank)||112.3 (53)||109.1 (101)|
|Adjusted def. efficiency (rank)||94.3 (21)||95.6 (32)|
|Schedule strength||10.64 (11)||8.63 (38)|
Players to watch: Mike Miles Jr., TCU, 6-2, jr. — A second-team all-Big 12 pick two years in a row, Miles can score from all three levels. Between Miles and point guard Damion Baugh (12.6 ppg, 5.8 apg), the Horned Frogs’ backcourt is dangerous. Desmond Cambridge Jr., ASU, 6-4, sr. — The Sun Devils have generally had talented guards under coach Bobby Hurley, and this year is no different between Cambridge (13.8 ppg, 1.7 spg), D.J. Horne (12.4 ppg, 2.4 apg) and Frankie Collins (9.7 ppg, 4.4 apg).
About TCU: The Horned Frogs are making a second consecutive tournament trip for the first time since 1953 and looking to take the next step after an overtime loss to top-seeded Arizona last March denied them their first Sweet 16 appearance since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
The biggest challenge for TCU this season has been continuity. Only four players have appeared in all 33 games. TCU has had 15 different starting lineups — the most of any team in the five power conferences. The good news for the Frogs: They’ve had the same starting lineup each of the past four games.
About ASU: With their season on the line, the Sun Devils delivered their best performance of the season in the First Four, blitzing Nevada, 98-73. Arizona State shot 63.6% from the floor and 52.4% from the 3.
But Wednesday night aside, this is a team that’s made its bones on defense. The Sun Devils have the fifth-best field goal percentage defense (40.0) in the tournament and have forced opponents into double-digit turnovers in 60 of their last 66 games.
Want more sports news? Sign up for the Sports Omelette to get all our analysis on Denver’s teams.
Source: Read Full Article