March Madness

2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (6) Baylor vs. (11) Nebraska

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Baylor Bears 24-11, 9-9
After a 2-8 start to Big 12 play the Bears were starting to be talked about as one of the most disappointing teams in the country. They only lost one more time in the regular season after that, though, and advanced to the conference tournament championship, where they narrowly fell to Iowa State. As a result, they’re now being mentioned as one of the hottest teams going into the tournament. The Bears, who are making their eight tournament appearance in school history, attribute their turnaround to their increased activity on the defense end and their team chemistry. Rather than pointing fingers and blaming each other for their failures, they kept believing in each other and rallied. With one of the most talented frontlines in college basketball featuring Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Royce O’Neale, the Bears are going to be a tough matchup for whoever they draw. The Bears outrebounded their opponents by 7.4 on average, the 11th best rebounding margin in the country, and blocked 5.6 shots a night. They went 17-3 when outscoring their opponents in the paint. While their strength is upfront, they have capable guard play in Brady Heslip, one of the best three point shooters in the country, and Kenny Chery, who is averaging 11.4 points and a team-high five assists in place of last year’s leading scorer and playmaker Pierre Jackson. To beat the Bears you have keep the guards from going off and handle their size inside. They don’t defend the three particularly well and they are prone to streakiness at the free throw line, where they only connected on 66 percent on average.

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Nebraska Cornhuskers 19-2, 11-7
For the first time the millennium the Cornhuskers are a part of the NCAA Tournament field. The last time they were dancing was way back in 1998; this is the seventh appearance in school history. Their at-large bid comes as a result of their 27th ranked strength of schedule 46th ranked RPI. They went 8-9 against the RPI top 50, with their most notable wins coming against Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Cornhuskers head coach Tim Miles deserves a lot of credit for being able to get this program back on track so quickly. With only one senior, Ray Gallegos, in the regular rotation, it’s safe to assume there won’t be as much time in between their next tournament appearance. Miles has this team playing at a high level defensively, giving up just 64 points a night. They do struggle to score at times. Terran Petteway is one of the top offensive players in the Big Dance, averaging 18.1 points a game to go along with his 4.9 rebounds. He’s one of just two double-digit scorers for the Cornhuskers, though. Shavon Shields (12.7 ppg) is the other. Deverell Biggs was a quality third option in his 15 games with the program, but he was dismissed midseason. Another area of concern for the Cornhuskers is rebounding; they lost the battle of the boards by 1.4 nightly. They have a very tough first round matchup, especially considering their weaknesses. However, the Cornhuskers have a lot of momentum, not just from the confidence that stems from ending their extended tournament drought, but they just recently upset Wisconsin and eight of their last 10. They’re 0-6 all-time in the tournament, but that goose egg is in serious danger, if not this year than almost certainly the next.