Think how different the 2021 NCAA Tournament would be if Collin Gillespie had not injured his knee with just two games left in Villanova’s regular season.
The Wildcats likely would have been a No. 3 seed or a No. 4 at the lowest, meaning West Virginia might have been knocked down a line and perhaps Villanova dealing with the zone-defense complications of old rival Syracuse. Maybe they’d have wound up opposite Southern California in the West Region, and Kansas would not have absorbed a loss so profound it nearly sent them back to the pre-Naismith days.
Until 6 p.m. on Selection Sunday, the bracket is a living piece of art. That injury changed everything for Villanova, and yet somehow it did not stop the team from making it here.
Then again, Villanova only had to defeat two mid-major opponents to reach the 2021 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. It was the ideal scenario in multiple ways: less demanding opposition, greater opportunity to adjust to adjust to Gillespie’s absence.
Will any of the work Villanova has done be enough to keep pace with No. 1 South Region seed Baylor? This will be the best team, by far, the Wildcats have played this season. They battled with fellow Sweet 16er Creighton in the Big East and defeated Big 12 Tournament champion Texas, but the Bears are another step up that ladder. And they’re having to do it without the central piece of their attack.
Here’s everything to know about betting on Baylor vs. Villanova in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, including updated odds, trends and our prediction for the Sweet 16 game.
Baylor vs. Villanova odds
- Spread: Baylor by 6.5
- Over/under: 140.5
- Moneyline: Baylor -275, Villanova +225
Three betting trends to watch
— Since returning from a 3-week COVID pause, Baylor is 3-6 ATS. They are 1-1 in the two NCAA Tournament games but easily beat a similar number in their second-round game against Wisconsin.
— Villanova won each of its two NCAA games ATS, but this has not been a reliable team in that department. On the season, the Wildcats are an even 13-13 ATS.
— This is the first game all season in which Villanova enters as an underdog. They were a multi-basket favorite in every previous game but two, when they visited Texas in December and Creighton in February.
Baylor key players
Baylor guard Jared Butler is the quietest of this season’s five first-team All-Americans. All he does is guard his man and make shots and set up his teammates – OK, he pretty much does everything, and he does not go unnoticed or he would not be an All-American along with Ayo Dosunmu, Luka Garza, OK State’s Cade Cunningham and Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert. Butler averages only 16.9 points, not extraordinary for a player so honored, but he tends to produce the biggest numbers at the biggest moments. His backcourt partner, Davion Mitchell, has advanced from a defensive demon to a shooter hitting 46.1 percent of his threes. He was at 32.4 percent last season. Mark Vital is listed as a guard and stands 6-5, but he grabs 6.7 rebounds per game and regularly defends opposing bigs.
Villanova key players
With Gillespie injured, Villanova had planned to use sophomore Justin Moore as his primary replacement. In his first game in that role, Moore injured his ankle, which limited his effectiveness in the Big East Tournament. He averaged 35.5 minutes in the two NCAA Tournament games, though, plus 15 points 3.5 assists. He committed only one turnover in the two games combined. Forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was named a third-team All-American by Sporting News with averages of 16 points and 8.3 rebounds. He is comfortable operating away from the basket and in the post. He is talented enough that genuine greatness seems in reach, and he has averaged 22 points in March elimination games. Jermaine Samuels is a versatile, reliable forward who has improved his shooting touch.
Best individual matchup: Mitchell vs. Moore
Baylor’s Davion Mitchell is considered one of the top on-ball defenders in college basketball, which should make his action against Villanova’s Justin Moore an essential element of how this game develops. Moore is new to the point at this level – Gillespie averaged nearly 34 minutes a game — and his injury and Villanova’s inability to stay alive in the Big East Tournament has limited the opportunity to make a complete adjustment to the role. Mitchell could make him very uncomfortable initiating the attack, although Moore is a big guard who could use his strength and length to his advantage.
Baylor vs. Villanova stat to know
By the smallest of margins, Wisconsin missed becoming the 10th consecutive high-major opponent to score 1.0 points per possession or better against the once-mighty Baylor defense. (The Badgers got .98). The Bears were 9-2 in that stretch, so their powerful offense has been able to compensate, but remember they were 15-0 before it began. The decline in defensive efficacy widely has been traced to the program’s three-week COVID pause, but the slippage had begun before.
Get to know … MaCio Teague
A 6-4 junior for the Bears, Teague is nominated for the Jerry West Award, which is presented by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to the nation’s top shooting guard. Teague was lightly recruited out of both high school and prep school, but after two years at UNC Asheville was able to transfer to Baylor. It seems only a mild coincidence the Bears surged into a position among the nation’s four best teams when he became eligible in 2019-20, averaging 13.9 points and 35.5 percent long-distance shooting. This season, he routinely has been excellent, improving those numbers to 16.1 points and 39.7 percent from deep. He has made 281 threes in his career. And he is one of those long-distance specialists who does not shrink when moving inside the line. He’s converting 54.3 percent of his 2-point attempts.
Baylor vs. Villanova prediction
Final score: Baylor 79, Villanova 72