By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
The "other" semifinal in the South Regional Friday features No. 1 Kentucky against No. 4 Indiana. The Hoosiers are one of two teams to beat the Wildcats, who figure to have a huge fan edge in the Georgia Dome.
Then there's No. 10 seed Xavier, a team involved in an ugly brawl in December. The Musketeers have been to six Sweet 16s and two regional final but have never played in the Final Four.
The last member of the foursome is Baylor, the No. 3 seed. The Bears (29-7) have set a school record for victories but have spent the season hearing about their shortcomings.
"We're playing for the national championship … we weren't expected to be here now," sophomore Perry Jones III said Thursday in Atlanta. "We want to show everybody that we are a basketball team that's capable of winning the championship, capable of winning games.
"A lot of guys question our toughness, our toughness inside, our toughness outside, everything. We just want to show everybody we're a tough team, and we can play with the best."
The Bears will be wearing their "electricity" yellow uniforms but you won't see the chip on their shoulders. Baylor is making its second Sweet 16 appearance in three years after never hearing its name and "Sweet 16" in the same sentence.
Despite the basketball program's and the athletic department's outstanding success, this edition of the Bears is circling the wagons to support each other. Jones, who has scored nine points on 14 shots in Baylor's two NCAA victories, fielded several questions about his lack of production.
Senior forward Quincy Acy's response: "Guess it's Bash Perry Jones Day."
So what will it take for the Bears to bash Xavier? The Musketeers have a confident, veteran guard in senior Tu Holloway. He has scored at least 21 points in five of his last six games and in the two NCAA triumphs he has totaled 46 points. Kenny Frease, a 7-foot, 275-pound center, had 25 points and 12 rebounds in Xavier's last game, a victory over Lehigh.
"Kenny Frease has been playing his behind off," Acy said. "We have to limit Kenny Frease's touches - and transition, also. They're very good in transition."
Xavier's biggest concern will be Baylor's back court, which was outstanding in the team's two NCAA victories in Albuquerque. Point guard Pierre Jackson and shooting guard Brady Heslip provided the offensive spark. Heslip made 9-of-12 3-pointers and scored a career-high 27 points in the Bears' victory over Colorado.
"The 3s I only got because my teammates found me when I was open, they set great screens, and they allowed me to get the shots off,'' said Heslip, who averages 10.3 points per game. "They make it easy for me. Xavier, I know they labeled me as a shooter, most teams do, so I've just got to do a good job coming off screens and getting open.''
Two years ago, Baylor reached the Elite Eight but lost to eventual national champion Duke.
"Once a team reaches a certain level, people expect them to get back or go even further," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "Us getting to the Elite Eight, that kind of put the bar there. So we know Baylor can get to the Elite Eight. The question is: Can we go further?"
Baylor's Brady Heslip has 44 points in two NCAA Tournament and 42 have come on 3-point field goals. That's the most points outside the paint by any player among the 16 teams still playing.
In five postseason games (Big 12 Championship, NCAA Tournament), Baylor has a 74-46 edge on its opponents in offensive rebounds.
Xavier guard Tu Holloway on Brady Heslip's 3-point shooting: "Any guy that can score 27 points in the NCAA Tournament without dribbling, he's a real good player."
No. 2 Baylor (29-7) vs. No. 10 Xavier (23-12)
6:15 p.m. Friday, Atlanta, CBS.
Why they're here:
Baylor was an at-large selection from the Big 12. The Bears defeated No. 14 South Dakota State and No. 11 Colorado in the first two NCAA games. Xavier was an at-large selection from the Atlantic 10 Conference. The Musketeers defeated No. 7 Notre Dame and No. -15 Lehigh in the first two NCAA games.
Scott Drew, Baylor; Chris Mack, Xavier.
Scouting the Bears:
Baylor coach Scott Drew says his team is executing better than it has all season. In two NCAA victories, the guard tandem of Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip has been productive on the offensive end. The Bears have benefitted from a switch to a three-guard lineup, with junior A.J. Walton bringing added defense to the floor. Freshman guard Deuce Bello also provided solid minutes. So far in the NCAAs, post players Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III have combined for just 20 points.
Scouting the Musketeers:
Xavier plays a challenging nonconference schedule but has not faced many teams as long and as physically talented as Baylor. The Musketeers rarely resort to a zone defense, so they'll have to win a lot of individual challenges – especially when it comes to keeping the Bears off the boards. Xavier's defensive pressure in the back court will be key in trying to force turnovers. The Musketeers are tough defensively; they limit opponents to 39 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range.