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Analysis | 2017 NCAA tournament: Baylor now has the easiest road to Final Four

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 3/20/2017 Neil Greenberg

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The first two rounds of the NCAA tournament were filled with upsets and last-minute heroics, and not all the top seeds survived into the Sweet 16.

No. 2 Duke fell to No. 7 South Carolina in the East after the Gamecocks scored 65 points in the second half. Louisville, another No. 2 seed, was upset by No. 7 Michigan after sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey hit the game-tying and game-winning three-point shots. No. 11 Xavier manhandled No. 3 Florida State 91-66 and No. 8 Wisconsin toppled No. 1 Villanova.

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According to the updated Pomeroy college basketball ratings, one of the best indicators of future wins heading into the tournament, No. 1 Gonzaga has the toughest road to the Final Four among the three remaining top seeds, assuming all the higher-rated teams move on to the Elite Eight. The Bulldogs face No. 4 West Virginia in the Sweet 16, a team with the sixth-best adjusted efficiency rating (plus-26.9), on Thursday and could see No. 2 Arizona (plus-23.6, 18th) in the Elite Eight.

The toughest road for No. 3 Baylor, by comparison, includes beating No. 7 South Carolina (plus-18.7, 28th) on Friday and No. 4 Florida (plus-28.0, 3rd) in the Elite Eight. But without a No. 1 or No. 2 seed left in the East region, Baylor could end up in the Final Four for the third time in the school’s history.

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If things break Baylor’s way, its opponents would be South Carolina and No. 8 Wisconsin (plus-24, 21st), giving it the easiest road to Phoenix.

The key for the Bears’ future success is to continue to dominate the glass. During the regular season they grabbed 40 percent of offensive rebounds, third-most in the nation, and that continued in the tournament. They out-rebounded USC 34-23 in the second round, with 14 of those offensive rebounds. Johnathan Motley grabbed 10 rebounds, six on offense, and Terry Maston added nine rebounds of his own. Baylor has also scored on 7 of its 12 putback attempts during the tournament, putting them in a three-way tie with Arizona and Wisconsin for the second-highest scoring rate among teams remaining.

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The road for No. 11 Xavier and No. 4 West Virginia is perhaps the toughest among all the Sweet 16 teams. If Xavier manages to beat No. 2 Arizona it is left facing No. 1 Gonzaga, owners of the highest adjusted efficiency in the country (plus-32.3). West Virginia would have the same challenge, only in reverse.

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