While the Baylor frontline, with all their size and athleticism, get a lot of the hype, Jackson is arguably the most important piece to this Baylor puzzle -- at least on the offensive end. Jackson is not only the leading scorer of the balanced Baylor offense, but he's also the one true play-maker they have. He's by far the best passer on the team, and his ability to beat his man and force the defense to help and rotate, frees up all of his teammates. It also makes it very difficult to box out the long and athletic frontline of Baylor if Xavier's bigs are out of position because they had to help up. Jackson's a small guard, but explosive and quick off the bounce, so Holloway will have his work cut out for him on defense. The one issue Jackson has at times, is he tends to get a little sloppy and commits too many turnovers. He averages 3.5 turnovers per game, so Xavier needs to pressure him to try and speed him up. Expect Dee Davis, especially if Dez Wells can't go, to spend a lot of time guarding Jackson as well whenever he is in the game. Holloway has been great in the postseason, averaging 21 points and hitting some huge shots along the way. What hasn't gotten as much publicity though is the defensive job he's done against two great guards in Jerian Grant and CJ McCollum. If he can shut down another top-notch guard on Friday night, it could be the key to Xavier making it back to the Elite Eight.
Slight Edge Xavier
If you haven't heard about his performance in the round of 32 against Colorado yet, you will when you watch the game on Friday night. But just to fill you in ahead of time, Heslip set an NCAA record with nine threes. All of his game-high 27 points came from beyond the arc. Heslip is out there for one reason, and one reason only -- to make threes. Out of his 268 field-goal attempts on the year, 215 of them have come from beyond the arc, where he shoots 45.6 percent. Baylor is great at finding him in transition and on out of bounds plays for open looks. He understands how to space when running the floor, and moves well without the ball in his hands to get free. If Lyons, or whoever else is guarding him, sticks to him, then he doesn't bring a whole lot to the table. He won't make mistakes and turn it over, but he doesn't really produce in any other area. He's an average defender. Lyons has struggled in the first two games of the tournament, scoring just eight against Notre Dame and seven against Lehigh. He's 5-of-17 from the floor in those two Xavier wins, though three of those makes have been 3-pointers. He's also had nine assists and seven turnovers. Xavier needs a big night out of Lyons against Baylor. The Bears will play zone, so Lyons could play an important role as the Musketeers' top perimeter threat. Lyons is due for a big game, and Xavier needs it from him more than ever.
Slight Edge Xavier
Miller came in as a highly touted freshman, and though he's not putting up eye-popping numbers, he's fit into a talented and balanced attack nicely for a high-profiled youngster. His unique skill-set and ridiculous length allows him to do a little bit of everything. He can defend multiple positions when Baylor plays man, which they've done more of lately, he can rebound, he can pass, he can handle, and he can score inside and out. Like most of this Baylor frontline though, Miller is unselfish and even disappears at times. This whole Baylor frontcourt has been inconsistent, and Miller is no exception, as he can be a major difference-maker or attempt just two shots as he did against Kansas State two weeks ago. There's a very good chance that Dez Wells will give it a go, so we'll leave him in the starting lineup for now. There is certainly reason to question how effective he'll be though, as he was still struggling with the pain from his sprained toe today at Xavier's short practice. His injury is extremely unfortunate considering Xavier's matchup against a Baylor team loaded with size, athleticism and strength. Wells was terrific in the Notre Dame game with 14 points and a career-high 11 rebounds, before injuring his toe in the Lehigh game. If he's unable to give Xavier much, it will be a big blow.
Moderate Edge Baylor
Jones III is an incredible talent. However, his motor seems to come and go. So far in the tournament, he hasn't scored much in Baylor's two wins. In the first round game against South Dakota State he scored just two points in 33 minutes on 1-of-6 shooting, but he did grab 11 rebounds. In the second round game against Colorado, he scored seven points on 3-of-8 shooting and had just four boards. He is much better when you allow him to get going with easy offensive put-backs or when Jackson is able to get into the lane and force the defense to help up to where he can drop it off to Jones. Xavier needs to keep a body on him and try to keep him disinterested and out of the game. Walker has been sitting out all week after taking a serious blow to the head/face against Notre Dame, and then banging noggins again with a Lehigh player on Sunday. He was suffering from Migraines on Thursday and didn't attend Xavier's practice, but expect him to play. He'll be very important for Xavier in this matchup, as they can move him to the three to play bigger. The Musketeers need him to give his best effort on the glass against a Baylor team that rebounds very well.
Moderate Edge Baylor
Kenny Frease (7-0, 275) vs Quincy Acy Sr (6-7, 235)
Acy is the shortest on the frontline, but he's just as physically impressive as any of them. He's a big strong guy with great athleticism. His offensive game doesn't extend far beyond dunking and getting put-backs, but he's a big-time rebounder on both ends of the court (7.2 per game), and he still manages 11.5 points in the balanced Baylor attack. On the defensive end, Acy is the most formidable shot-blocker of the group with an average of 1.9 blocks per game. Frease has been playing the best basketball of his career over the last nine games. His 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting with 12 rebounds against Lehigh was as impressive a game as he's played at Xavier. Baylor certainly isn't Lehigh though. The big man will have his work cut out for him. He's not quite as athletic, or even much taller than Baylor's frontcourt, but he does still have a lot of weight on them. If he can carve out space, he can still be effective, especially if he utilizes shot-fakes against a Baylor defense that likes to leave their feet. Frease will also have to be looking for the ball on the screen and roll if Baylor plays man-to-man at all, as their rotations seem to be late when the big man rolls to the rim after his man hedges on the screen. Frease will need another huge performance if Xavier is to pull off the upset.
Slight Edge Baylor
Xavier Bench vs Baylor Bench
Baylor has impressive depth, including some great size off the bench. A.J. Walton has started almost half the games this season, and still plays 20 minutes off the bench. He can score, but his shot selection is often questionable, and he turns the ball over far too often. Anthony Jones is a rail-thin 6-10 forward with a nice skill-set. He's given Baylor an offensive spark off the bench with 19 points in just 22 minutes so far in the tournament, including making 2-of-3 from three. Cory Jefferson gives the Bears another reserve with length at 6-9, 210. He scores 3.8 points per game and grabs 2.8 rebounds in just 11 minutes of action. Deuce Bello is another freshman that plays about 10.1 minutes per game and can always come up with the huge momentum building dunk with his freakish athleticism. Xavier's bench will be as important Friday night as it's been all season. With Dez Wells and Andre Walker potentially being limited, the Musketeers are going to need good minutes from their bench. Justin Martin, Jeff Robinson and Travis Taylor have to provide energy and rebounding. Xavier's offense will come from Holloway, Lyons and Frease, but they won't be able to compete if they can't hold their own on the glass and on defense. Dee Davis could also see more minutes when Baylor goes small at times. Occasionally the bears will play Walton or Bello, along with Heslip and Jackson, which would allow Xavier to play Davis with Holloway and Lyons. Also, Redford has a matchup in Heslip that works well for him, so he could be used against Baylor's zone.
Moderate Edge Baylor
This is going to be a difficult matchup for the Muskies. They are smaller, and their best athlete may be ineffective, against a team with tons of athleticism. The bottom line for Xavier is Lyons, Holloway and Frease will have come up with special performances to pull of the upset. Baylor is the more talented team, and they present matchup problems inside. One big question will be how much does Baylor use their zone? If the Bears play a lot of zone early one, then it will be key for Holloway, Lyons and possibly Wells, Redford, Davis, or Martin to hit a couple threes to extend them. They have played a lot more man-to-man as of late though, and if they do that, look for Holloway and Lyons to have some success splitting the double-team after the ball-screen, as Baylor has been susceptible to that.They also struggle to rotate, and give up a lot of cuts to the basket on the back side. While Baylor is a team with immense talent, they are far from perfect. They often have bad stretches, similar to Xavier, so big runs in this game can be expected. The Muskies better not wait too long to try and make their comeback this time though -- Baylor shoots 75 percent from the free-throw line as a team. On the defensive end they'll have to keep Jackson in front, while not helping off of Heslip, which is a lot easier said than done. The size and athleticism up front, combined with good guard play may just be a little too much for this resilient Xavier squad.
Score Prediction:Baylor 70 Xavier 65