It's the Baptists vs. the Catholics in this regional semifinal at Reliant Stadium in Houston when LaceDarius Dunn and the Baylor Bears meet the St. Mary's Gaels.
Two teams with a lot in common, the Baylor Bears and St. Mary’s Gaels, meet up Friday night at the South Regional semifinals. Both teams are making their first Sweet 16 appearance ever. Before this year, Baylor hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game in 60 years and St. Mary’s in 51.
Baylor scores 77.3 PPG and allows 65.7 PPG. St. Mary’s is very similar, scoring 79.4 PPG and surrendering 66.2 PPG.
Bookmaker.com has Baylor listed as 4 ½-point favorites with a total of 142 ½-points. The winner of this game will play either Duke or Purdue, with the Dukies 8 ½-point ‘chalk.’
St. Mary’s (28-5 straight-up, 21-10 against the spread) is a 10th seed, which makes it the third biggest Cinderella left behind No. 11 Washington and No. 12 Cornell. Both Washington and St. Mary’s needed to win their conference tourneys to ensure entry.
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The WCC title game against Gonzaga was a turning point for the Gaels. They had lost twice to the Zags, the more recent a 19-point blowout on the road. St. Mary’s turned the tables in the championship game with an 81-62 beat-down as 4 ½-point ‘dogs.
That momentum has continued in the NCAA tournament with an 80-71 win over No. 7 Richmond, and a 75-68 win over No. 2 Villanova. The Gaels ‘covered’ both as one and four-point ‘dogs respectively.
St. Mary’s is riding a seven-game winning streak overall, going 6-1 ATS. The ‘under’ is 1-1 in this tournament and 9-3 in the last 12 games.
Center Omar Samhan has been one of the stars of March Madness, averaging 30.5 PPG. The 6-foot-11 senior is the rare college big man who actually likes to post up. He’s shooting a ridiculous 24-32 (75 percent) from the field in the two games.
The rest of the starting lineup is comprised of three Australians (no, that’s not a misprint), plus point guard Mickey McConnell. Ben Allen is one of the Aussies and another 6-foot-11 player. McConnell is a lights-out shooter from long range, and St. Mary’s is fifth in the country in three-point shooting (41.1 percent).
No. 3 seed Baylor (27-7 SU, 17-10 ATS) is out of the Big 12. Seven conference teams made the Big Dance, including top-ranked Kansas, but Kansas State is the only other squad remaining.
The Bears started the tournament very tight, being tied with No. 14 Sam Houston State with under four minutes left. The 68-59 final just failed to ‘cover’ the 9 ½-point spread.
Baylor did ‘cover’ against No. 11 Old Dominion last game, 76-68 as four-point favorites. However, that was a tie game with under six minutes remaining.
LaceDarius Dunn had 26 points against Old Dominion. He’s the leading scorer (19.4 PPG) along with backcourt mate Tweety Carter (15.1 PPG). Ekpe Udoh, a 6-foot-10 junior, is another very good player who averages 13.9 PPG and 9.7 RPG.
Baylor has one of the tallest frontcourts in the nation with 7-foot center Josh Lomers and 6-foot-10 Anthony Jones joining Udoh. Quincy Acy is an athletic sixth man at the small forward position.
The Bears’ defense allows opponents to shoot just 38.3 percent from the field, second in the Big 12. They play a lot of 2-3 zone that is effective due to their height and shot-blocking. Udoh is fifth in the nation in blocks at 3.88 per game.
However, if the Bears pay too much attention to Samhan, he’ll dish it out to the three-point shooters. If they concentrate too much on the perimeter, Samhan will use that big body to muscle it down low.
Baylor was last in the Big 12 in turnover margin at minus 1.74 per game. However, St. Mary’s was last in the WCC in creating turnovers (11 per game).
Neither team is reporting any recent injuries. The game comes from Reliant Stadium in Houston, a potential home court advantage at only 180 miles from the Baylor campus. CBS will have the tip-off at 7:27 p.m. (ET).