Two power conferences meet in this matchup between the Baylor Bears and Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska finished fourth in their first season in the Big 10, behind sophomore guard/forward Terran Petteway‘s 18.1 points per game. Nebraska had a very tough December and January, losing seven out of 13, which seemed to confirm preseason predictions that the Cornhuskers would finish at or near the bottom. But they recovered nicely and started winning (eight out of their last 10) when it counted the most. This is the Cornhuskers’ seventh NCAA Tournament appearance; they have gone one-and-done in each of their previous six.
The Bears followed a similar path to the tournament, beginning Big 12 conference play at just 2-8. But they got healthy and caught fire at just the right time by ending the season 7-1 and then making a run to the tournament championship game. The Bears have a very balanced offense: Their leading scorer is senior forward Cory Jefferson, and three others average in double figures. But what really sets Baylor apart is their matchup zone defense. It’s very difficult to get into your normal offensive rhythm for the first ten or fifteen minutes. In the Big 12 title game, the Iowa State Cyclones started 1-for-15 from the field. Baylor is 9-9 overall in NCAA Tournament play. That record includes an Elite Eight in both 2010 and 2012. In both years, they lost to the eventual national champion (Duke and Kentucky, respectively). The Bears won the NIT in 2013.
Baylor was a top-ten team at the start of the year before injuries and a difficult schedule almost derailed their season. Nebraska has trouble scoring, having eclipsed 75 points only four times in the last three months. Unless head coach Tim Miles can come up with some answers, look for Baylor to jump out to a big lead early and advance to meet either Creighton or La.-Lafayette in the next round.