The Baylor Bears know their path in March to a championship, and it is a very difficult. Seeded surprisingly as the 12th overall seed, the Bears have the overall top seed Villanova at the top of their bracket, and the surging Duke Blue Devils as the 2-seed. On top of that, Florida, Virginia, and SMU round out the top six seeds.
Most importantly is the first round, as the Bears will take on the New Mexico State Aggies, the 13th seed, in the first round Friday in Tulsa, Ok. It is the closest first round game for the Bears in their recent run of NCAA success, so that is the good news.
The bad news is everything else. The Aggies are 28-5 and champions of the Western Athletic Conference. They defeated regular season champion Cal-State Bakersfield in the WAC finals on Saturday. The second round is where things might get interesting, as the 30-4 SMU Mustangs are favored to beat the winner of the play-in game (Providence and Southern California). The Mustangs dominated the American Athletic Conference, running away with a 17-1 record and a 16-game winning streak. They have won 25 of their last 26-games, including two wins over fellow 6-seed Cincinnati.
If the Bears are able to get past New Mexico State and SMU, they will more than likely have to square off against the Duke Blue Devils, maybe the most talented team in the nation. The preseason #1 team in the nation, the Blue Devils have had an up and down year, struggling with injuries to their star players and their legendary coach. A 1-3 finish to the regular season put them in 7th place in the strong ACC, but four wins in four days, including over 1-seed UNC and 2-seed Louisville, gave the Blue Devils the ACC title.
The fun starts Friday at a to be determined time. A win would mean a Sunday game in Tulsa, and possibly a very local crowd from Dallas and Waco making their way north up I-35. The tournament starts Tuesday and Wednesday night in Dayton as the four play-in games kick off the festivities.
Baylor will have an extra day to rest injured stars Johnathan Motley (dislocated finger) and Manu Lecomte (ankle). Stay tuned to BearsIllustrated.com for more on how the Bears match up in this bracket and their hopes for another deep run into March.