Xavier (23-12) vs. Baylor (29-7)
Friday, March 23, 7:15 p.m. (ET)
The Sports Network
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Georgia Dome (35,000) -- Atlanta, Georgia. Television: CBS. NCAA Tournament Record: Xavier 21-22, Baylor 8-8. Series Record: Baylor leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: The 10th-seeded Xavier Musketeers will try to take down the third- seeded Baylor Bears as the two programs battle it out in the South Region's semifinal round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament at the Georgia Dome.
Xavier quickly quieted the 15th-seeded Lehigh Mountain Hawks in the third round of the tourney last Sunday to advance. The Musketeers' strong defense powered them as they held off Lehigh to win 70-58. Xavier will look to carry its defensive momentum into the Sweet 16 after allowing the Mountain Hawks to make only 14.7 percent of their field goal attempts in the final 20 minutes of the contest. The strong defensive effort is nothing new, as Xavier led the Atlantic 10 in field goal percentage defense and three-point field goal percentage defense. Coach Chris Mack has a chance to lead Xavier to its third Elite Eight in 12 years, after it reached the quarterfinal round in 2004 and 2008.
The Bears are going to be a challenge for XU's hard-nosed defense. Baylor seems to be gaining momentum at the right time. After a struggle with South Dakota State in its second-round contest, it ran away from the 11th-seeded Colorado and picked up an 80-63 victory. Baylor's athletic lineup won the rebounding battle 41-28 versus Colorado. Coach Scott Drew's team has still not lost to a non-conference opponent this season. The Bears are a very explosive team offensively and have outscored their opponents by an average of 10.0 ppg this season. Baylor has already set the single-season record for wins.
Baylor and Xavier will be meeting for just the second time. Baylor defeated Xavier, 69-64, in the fifth-place game of the 2009 Old Spice Classic on a neutral court. The winner of this game will move into the Elite Eight against either top-seeded Kentucky or fourth-seeded Indiana.
Senior center Kenny Frease scored a career-high 25 points and grabbed a game- high 12 rebounds to push the Musketeers past Lehigh. Guard Tu Holloway continued his stellar play as he poured in 21 points to outshine Lehigh's C.J. McCollum. Holloway leads the team with averages of 17.4 points and 4.9 assists per game and is the only player in the Atlantic 10 in the top five in both statistical categories. Shooting guard Mark Lyons has been in a shooting slump in the Big Dance so far, as he had gone 5-of-17 from the floor in his first two games. Lyons averaged 15.0 ppg during the regular season and is a threat to break out at any time.
The Bears' lineup is as deep and dangerous as any team left in the field. Guard Brady Heslip had a huge game in the third round versus Colorado as he knocked down nine three-pointers to set a program record for an NCAA Tournament game. Perry Jones III (13.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg) was held under 10 points for the second straight game by the Buffaloes, but point guard Pierre Jackson (13.5 ppg, 5.8 apg) continued his outstanding play. Jackson's quickness makes him nearly impossible to defend, which led to 15 points and 10 assists in the third round. Baylor's starting forward duo of Quincy Miller (11.0 ppg) and Quincy Acy (11.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg) has been vital to the Bears' success this postseason.
Both sides will be facing their biggest challenge of the NCAA Tournament in this one. Although Frease found success against Lehigh, he will not be able to dominate as easily against the Bears. Jackson will really be challenged by Holloway, and vice versa. Baylor will need Jones III to snap out of his shooting slump, The Bears' ability to score in bunches will challenge the Musketeers, who will struggle to keep up.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Baylor 75, Xavier 67
03/23 10:31:17 ET