March Madness proved once again why it truly is madness, with a handful of upsets already taking place on day one. The Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara will look to be the next team to cause a stir as they will take on three-seeded Baylor today at 1:30 PM EST. We’ll preview the game before going over why I’ll be backing the underdog in this matchup.
The Baylor Bears finished the season with a 22-10 overall record, but they will not enter the tournament on a high note. The Bears wrapped up the regular season and Big-12 Tournament by going 2-4 over their last six games, including back-to-back losses to an Iowa State team that everyone sold their stock on due to some injuries and team departures. A few reasons could be listed as to why the Bears have no momentum entering today, but defensive struggles are arguably one of the biggest.
These are no longer the days of Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler wreaking havoc on the defensive end of the floor; in fact, Baylor has one of the most significant differentials between offensive and defensive efficiency in the country. The Bears are currently ranked 104th in defensive efficiency, but they are ranked 2nd in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
With those defensive inconsistencies plaguing the team, the offense consistently needed to step up. Thanks to their impressive three-point shooting ability, they covered up those issues enough to secure a three-seed in the tournament. The Bears, who rank 32nd in three-point percentage, could find success today against a UCSB team that is 218th in opponent three-point percentage.
The good news for the Gauchos is their team is built to take advantage of lackluster defenses like the Bears. Entering tonight, the Big West tournament champions rank 71st in offensive efficiency and have the 6th-best shooting percentage in the entire country. Behind sophomore Ajay Mitchell, who averaged 17.6 PPG over the last ten games, the Gauchos were one of the most efficient shooting teams in the nation.
UCSB can currently be found as +10.5 point underdogs in this one, and I’ll be backing them for my play. Not only were the Gauchos 4-1 ATS when listed as underdogs this season, but they were also 20-11-1 ATS overall, while Baylor was 16-16 ATS overall and 13-14 ATS when listed as a favorite.
Both sides run at slower tempos, so possessions and getting quality looks will be significant factors today. The Gauchos rank better than Baylor in both effective field goal percentage and opponent's effective field goal percentage, as they are 23 spots ahead of them in offensive effective FG % and 99 spots better on defense.
UCSB has been one of the best teams at limiting three-pointers this season, allowing an average of just 16.8 attempts per game, which is 11th best in the country. That is part of the reason why they are a tough matchup for Baylor since the Bears attempt the 21st most three-pointers per game. Overall I think this is a less-than-ideal first-round matchup for a struggling Baylor team, and I don’t see them being able to build or hold a double-digit lead.
UC Santa Barbara (+10.5)