Getting to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament means winning a four-team mini-tournament, which in NC State’s case includes Creighton, Baylor, and UC-Santa Barbara. Let’s get to know each one briefly.
No. 6 Creighton (21-12, 14-6)
Pomeroy Rating: No. 13
Best win: 56-53 over KenPom No. 4 UConn
Leading scorer: Ryan Kalkbrenner, 15.4 PPG
The Blue Jays challenged themselves in the non-conference, which included a trip to the Maui Invitational, where they were runners up to Arizona. The loss to Arizona was the start of a six-game losing streak, though there were games against Texas, Arizona State, and Marquette in there. Plus a head-scratching loss at home to Nebraska.
Creighton was just 9-8 on Jan. 11 after falling to 3-3 in Big East play, but over the next month, it reeled off eight straight wins, including victories over Xavier, Providence, and UConn. The Blue Jays lost to Xavier in the Big East tournament semis on Friday. Nine of their 12 losses came against teams that made the NCAAs.
No. 3 Baylor (22-10, 11-7)
Pomeroy Rating: No. 15
Best win: 80-75 over KenPom No. 3 UCLA
Leading scorer: Keyonte George, 15.8 PPG
Two years removed from a national title, Baylor is plenty good enough to make another deep run, thanks to an offense that ranks second nationally in efficiency. In addition to the win over UCLA in the non-conference, they’ve also beaten Gonzaga and Arkansas. (There’s a loss to UVA in there as well.)
They scuffled to an 0-3 start in the Big 12, though with essentially every team in that league NCAA-caliber, there were no breathers to be had. (You may have heard.) They reeled off six straight wins from mid-to-late January, and once they got above .500 in Big 12 play, they stayed there. But they did finish the season on a two-game losing streak, both to Iowa State, coincidentally.
No. 14 UCSB (27-7, 15-5)
Pomeroy Rating: No. 100
Best win: 73-65 over KenPom No. 97 UC Irvine
Leading scorer: Ajay Mitchell, 16.4 PPG
Baylor’s good, but we can’t completely count out the Gauchos, who won a whole lot of games and sit above a number of power-conference teams in the Pomeroy Ratings. The Gauchos are a bit of a mystery, though, on account of not bothering to play anyone decent in the non-conference. They even played a couple D-II teams. (Did you know there’s a San Francisco State? Me neither. Until I looked at UCSB’s KenPom page.)
Still, after accounting for the lousy schedule, UCSB’s offense ranks 72nd in efficiency, which ain’t bad. The Gauchos made nearly 55% of their twos during the regular season; they have a 6’10 dude shooting 53% on twos and 38% on threes. UCSB is a bit of a throwback, as just 29% of its shots have been threes, a rate that ranks 340th. Have to wonder if that limits their upset chances.
UCSB enters the tournament on a seven-game winning streak.