(1) Kentucky (35-2) vs. (3) Baylor (30-7) – 2:20PM ET, Atlanta, GA, CBS
While Kentucky’s fans are deliriously preparing for a week of pre “Battle for the Bluegrass – Final Four Edition” hype, the Kentucky and Baylor basketball squads are preparing for what should be a highly competitive battle today in Atlanta.
There may not be a college game this year that puts as much talent between the lines as this one. The only problem for Baylor is that the majority of that talent will be wearing blue and white. Baylor will, however, come as close as anyone to matching the Wildcats’ extraordinary talent level.
The equalizer for the Bears will have to be their relative experience. Whereas Kentucky has three starters and a sixth man who are freshmen, Baylor starts only one freshman. Senior center Quincy Acy, Baylor’s third leading scorer and second leading rebounder, has been here before, having lost to Duke in the Elite 8 in 2010.
As we know, Kentucky has been on a tremendous roll all season. In this year’s tournament they have yet to be truly tested, except for stretches in their last game versus Indiana. The key for the Wildcats will be how they react when they inevitably face a serious test.
The Wildcats are extremely balanced on both ends of the floor (six players average double-figure points), but that balance also makes it hard to determine who their go-to player would be down the stretch. In their close games this year, they have been clutch by committee. The question of course will be whether they can keep that up.
Baylor will need to play one of their best games of the season to win this game. They struggled during the year in these “big stage” games, but seemed to mature towards the end of the season. They will need a big performance from Perry Jones III. They will need Quincy Miller to produce solid numbers and not play like a freshman. They will need sophomore shooting guard Brady Heslip to find enough space to be productive beyond the three-point line. And finally, Pierre Jackson must dominate the point guard position in his match-up with Kentucky’s freshman, Marquis Teague.
The Bears would also be wise to induce Kentucky freshman phenomenon Anthony Davis into foul trouble. And even if all of the above were to happen, the Bears could still fall short to this Kentucky team.
Look for Baylor to fulfill many of the above requirements and make this a competitive, entertaining game. But, Baylor is not known for their defense and Kentucky’s plethora of options, led by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be a bit too much to overcome.
Prediction: Kentucky 87, Baylor 81.