Sweet 16 South Regional picks: Villanova’s journey to end vs. Baylor

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-North Texas at Villanova
Villanova Wildcats forward Cole Swider (10) attempts to push past North Texas Mean Green guard James Reese (0) during the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on March 21.
Albert Cesare/IndyStar via USA TODAY Sports

After a great first weekend of hoops at the 2021 NCAA Tournament, we turn our attention to next week’s Sweet 16 matchups, as the South Region will feature the biggest storyline of this year’s tournament — 15-seeded Oral Roberts.

After running through the Summit League, the Golden Eagles went on to upset No. 2 Ohio State in overtime before edging out No. 7 Florida in the Round of 32.

They became just the second 15-seed to reach the Sweet 16 (FGCU in 2013), officially etching their names into the March Madness history books.

Up next for the Eagles will be another SEC foe, the Arkansas Razorbacks, as the Hogs survived a pesky Colgate team before beating Texas Tech by two on Sunday.

Moving to the top of the region, top-seeded Baylor has appeared to regain their mid-season form, storming past No. 16 Hartford before dismantling an experienced Wisconsin program 86-73.

The Bears will tip off against Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats in the Sweet 16 on Saturday, as Nova —  albeit against double-digit seeds — has run through their first two opponents (No. 12 Winthrop and No. 13 North Texas).

Here’s who I’ll be backing on Saturday.

No. 3 Arkansas (-11) vs No. 15 Oral Roberts

Believe it or not, these two teams already faced each other earlier in the season, as Arkansas came back from a 10-point halftime deficit to defeat Oral Roberts 87-76.

The Hogs did a tremendous job slowing down the nation’s leading scorer, Max Abmas (24.5 ppg), that day, limiting him to 11 points on 4-11 shooting.

Abmas will need to have a much better performance if the Eagles want to pull off another miraculous upset this weekend, as this is a much different Arkansas team than they saw in November.

Abmas’ wingman, Kevin Obanor, deserves equal praise for his performance the past two games, as he’s been every bit as good as the country’s leading scorer.

The two have combined for 113 points so far this tournament, with 58 of those coming from the 6-foot-8 Obanor.

An impressive feat nonetheless, I think the two may struggle this weekend, as Arkansas’ athleticism will loom large in this contest.

Head coach Eric Mussleman and the Razorbacks boast four starters who are 6-foot-6 or taller, which will give the 6-foot-1 Abmas troubles on the offensive end. 

Moses Moody has been nothing short of spectacular this season (17.1 ppg), while Justin Smith, the x-factor in Arkansas’ Round-of-32 win over Texas Tech, has really come on strong as well.

I think the extended time off may hurt Oral Roberts’ momentum, as the Hogs will have plenty of time to prepare for the two-headed monster of Abmas and Obanor, propelling the Razorbacks to a double-digit victory.

The Pick: Arkansas -11

Villanova Wildcats forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (24) attempts to shoot the ball during their game against North Texas Mean Green.Albert Cesare/IndyStar via USA TODAY Sports

No. 1 Baylor (-6.5) vs No. 5 Villanova

Our second and final game of the South Region features the No. 1 Baylor Bears going up against a shorthanded Villanova team that has surprisingly steamrolled its way to the Sweet 16.

The key in this one will be Baylor’s backcourt defense, as both Jared Butler and MaCio Teague’s ball pressure has been absolutely ferocious in its first two tournament games.

They’ve limited their opponents to 59 points per game, holding Wisconsin point guard D’Mitrik Trice to just 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting and four turnovers.

This sort of perimeter defense will be crucial now that co-Big East Player of the Year, Collin Gillespie, is out for the season with a knee injury. 

The ‘Cats will have a real tough time getting into a rhythm offensively and will have to rely on the heroics of Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (16.0 ppg) to bail them out.

The Bears are hitting their stride at the right time, which is scary considering they’re 25-2 on the season, as they’ll move on in flashing colors this weekend — coasting to their first Elite 8 appearance since 2010.

The Pick: Baylor -6.5