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NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Game Preview: Villanova Wildcats vs. Baylor Bears

by March 24, 2021

The Baylor Bears and Villanova Wildcats were ranked No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in the Preseason AP Poll. However, the Bears lived up to preseason expectations, and the Wildcats did not. Thus, we got a matchup between them in the Sweet 16 instead of the Final Four.

The last two times Jay Wright’s teams have made the Sweet 16 (2016, 2018), they have gone on to win the national championship. Baylor is looking for their third Elite Eight appearance (2010, 2012) in school history but has never reached a Final Four or beyond. 

Will Villanova continue its quest to repeat recent history, or will Baylor continue their path further than any other team in school history has ever gone before?

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  • Opening Lines: DraftKings had the odds open Baylor -6.5; O/U 140
  • Location: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
  • Start Time: 5:15 pm ET
  • Television: CBS
  • Last Meeting: November 24, 2019- #24 Baylor def. #17 Villanova 87-78
u140.5 -108


When the NCAA tournament brackets were revealed, Villanova was thought of as the most No. 5 seed likely to get upset. They had lost their previous two games leading into the NCAA tournament, which also coincided with being the only two games they had played without Collin Gillespie up to that point. However, after two convincing tournament wins, it seems everyone was too quick to dismiss the potential of Jay Wright’s club.

Though Winthrop entered their matchup with Villanova with a 23-1 SU record, the Wildcats exposed that the Eagles likely built such a gaudy record based on a strength of schedule that ranked 312th. Villanova caught a scheduling break when facing No. 13 seed North Texas instead of Purdue and responded with one of their more complete games of the season. The Wildcats hit 15 of 30 three-point attempts and shot 55.4% overall. Villanova has won their two tournament games by an average of 16.5 PPG and enter this Sweet 16 matchup a confident bunch.

Similar to how the public was down on Villanova recently, many also lowered Baylor’s expectations for a time. Following a 21-day COVID-19 pause in early February, the Bears went 5-2 SU in their last seven games before the NCAA tournament. They beat three NCAA tournament teams (West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech). Still, uninspiring wins like the five-point win over Iowa State where they trailed by double-digits late suddenly caused some to question what Baylor’s ceiling was. After a convincing 13-point win over Wisconsin in the Round of 32, the Bears have silenced doubters for now. 

Baylor’s successful year did not go unnoticed by the Big 12 Conference postseason awards voters. Scott Drew was recognized as Coach of the Year, and Baylor had two First Team selections in Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell. MaCio Teague (Third Team) and Mark Vital (Honorable Mention) also received honors. However, the thing that makes Baylor so dangerous is that they had three players (Butler, Mitchell, Vital) named to the conference All-Defensive Team. Given the way the rest of the South region has played out, Baylor now has odds of -250 to make the Final Four. 


  • Villanova is 3-0-1 ATS in their last four games as an underdog
  • Villanova is 4-0-1 ATS in their last five games versus teams with a winning record
  • Villanova is 5-1 ATS in their last six neutral site games as an underdog
  • Villanova is 17-5 ATS in their last 22 NCAA Tournament games
  • Baylor is 8-3 ATS in their last 11 neutral site games
  • Baylor is 7-3 ATS in their last 10 neutral site games as a favorite
  • Baylor is 0-4 ATS in their last four games following an ATS win
  • The under is 5-2 in Villanova’s last seven games as an underdog
  • The over is 4-1 in Villanova’s last five neutral site games
  • The over is 12-2 in Baylor’s last 14 games
  • The over is 6-0 in Baylor’s last six games following an ATS win

Bottom Line

While many will be quick to jump back on Villanova’s bandwagon following two convincing victories to start the tournament, Winthrop and North Texas are not in the same stratosphere talent-wise as Baylor. The Bears are a more battle-tested bunch going through the grind of the Big 12 compared to the Big East. Without Collin Gillespie, the Bears should take advantage of certain matchups and limit what Villanova does best.

Due to Gillespie’s injury, Villanova is forced to start Chris Arcidiacono (brother of Final Four MOP Ryan) at point guard. Before his six-point outing against North Texas, Arcidiacono had scored three points in 11 games earlier this season. Baylor head coach Scott Drew will use this knowledge to his advantage and will be able to help off Arcidiacono to focus more defensive attention on Justin Moore and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Robinson-Earl has not seen a defender all year like Mark Vital, and the Wildcats do not have much other scoring punch these days if JRE cannot get going.

While Baylor should find success on the defensive end, Villanova’s inability to slow down Baylor’s offense is of greater concern. Jay Wright often said this season that his team’s defense was a work in progress. Villanova ranked dead-last in the Big East in effective field goal percentage defense and ninth in three-point and two-point percentage defense. Those are dangerous metrics against a Baylor team that leads the country in three-point shooting percentage (41.5%) and ranks in the top-three in adjusted offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage.

Villanova’s “name-brand” has earned them the respect of the oddsmakers. However, there are too many mismatches on both ends of the court for this to be anything but a comfortable double-digit Baylor win. 

The Bears covered comfortably against Wisconsin as -6.5 point favorites. Are we sure that the short-handed Wildcats are that much better than the Badgers these days?

Pick: Baylor -6.5

Check out our other Sweet 16 game previews for Saturday’s matchups:

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Mike Spector is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeSpector01.

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