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Second Round Preview: Gonzaga vs Baylor

Gonzaga vs Rem Bakamus!

AP Photo/ Rick Bowmer

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for a remarkable 11th straight season. It seemed like everyone was either clamoring for or expecting a Gonzaga-Syracuse rematch from 2016. Instead, Frank Howard got suspended 24 hours prior to tip-off, Baylor went out and hit 16 threes, and the Bears defeated the Orange 78-69 to set up Saturday’s second round tilt. Gonzaga is 4-0 against Baylor all-time.

As we know, Rem Bakamus, former Gonzaga walk-on fraternity legend, is a grad assistant at Baylor. Who knows what kind of tangible impact he can have on a game plan, but it’s still a cool moment to go against his former team (and the one he may secretly root for?). If Gonzaga is as sharp as they were on Thursday, they should be able to dispatch of the Bears in quick order and advance to a FIFTH straight Sweet 16.

Baylor Bears (20-13, 10-8 in Big 12, KenPom 35)

The Bears were supposed to have a rebuilding season once they lost their star big man, Tristan Clark, for the season back in early January. They were 9-6 and reeling. Instead, they went on a six game winning streak, and won 10 of 13 to get themselves into the thick of the Big 12 race. Unfortunately, they dropped the final three games of the season and fell in the first round of the Big 12 tournament. Senior superstar guard Makai Mason has been hobbled the last month with various injuries, the latest being his leg. He was limping the entire second half against Syracuse and still willed his team to victory, scoring 22 points and dishing out four assists.

What to Watch For

Offensive Rebounds

Baylor’s offensive numbers are fine. They shoot 34 percent from deep, 51 percent from inside the arc, but they turn the ball over a lot. They stay in every game they play because they rebound the ball like crazy. Baylor is second in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. They have double-digit offensive rebounds in 14 of their last 18 games. Gonzaga has struggled all season on the defensive glass. They have a size advantage in this game, but if Baylor beats them on the glass, that advantage is totally neutralized. Outside the last three games of the season, Baylor has shot the ball well from deep. The best time to shoot a three? On a kick-out from an offensive rebound.

Can Baylor slow down Gonzaga’s offense?

The Bears switch between man and zone. Their zone is this strange 1-1-3 hybrid that acts as a 2-3 and a 1-3-1 at times. It can be confusing, but it’s one of those things that as soon as it gets figured out once, it gets exploited all night. After Tristan Clark went out, Baylor’s defense suffered greatly. The last 12 games of the season, they forced fewer than 10 turnovers a game. Their defense is ranked 79 on KenPom. They start Mark Vital as an undersized “4”. The 6’5 sophomore is talented, and a very strong dude, but Gonzaga should be able to take advantage inside. If not against him, it’ll be against 6’7 Mario Kegler and 6’8 Freddie Gillespie off the bench. There are a ton of fantastic guards and wings in the Big 12, but not a lot of good front courts. In two games against Baylor, Dedric Lawson from Kansas averaged 20 points. Baylor has not seen a trio like Rui-Clarke-Tillie all season, and preparing for them on a short turnaround is a rough ask.

Game info: Saturday at 4:10 pm on TBS.

KenPom Predictor: Gonzaga 81-69.