WBB Sweet 16 Preview: Can the final three Texas teams keep dancing?

Photo by Pat Carrigan

After an eventful first two rounds, three Texas teams remain in the NCAA Tournament: Baylor, Texas A&M, and Texas.

Can these teams keep advancing forward? Let's look at the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight possibilities for these squads.

 

Baylor looks to keep on Baylor-ing

The Baylor Lady Bears have been one of the most impressive teams in this year's tournament.

Per CBB Analytics, Baylor has the second-best net rating of any team so far in the tournament at +60.5. Only Indiana has a better defensive rating in this tournament, and in true Baylor fashion, the Lady Bears have the tournament's best offensive rebounding rate at 50 percent.

Sure, this all comes from a two-game sample, but the first weekend of the tournament showed that the Lady Bears were firing on all cylinders. They're even getting some strong production from their guards, with Moon Ursin playing the best basketball of her collegiate career at exactly the time you want her to be playing her best basketball.

Baylor's path to the Final Four starts at 2 p.m. on Saturday as they face six-seed Michigan. The Wolverines are better than their seed line suggests, but they'll need a huge effort from Naz Hillmon to upset Baylor. They could get that — remember, Hillmon had 50 points against Ohio State earlier this year, but Michigan notably lost that game. Big Ten teams have struggled on defense for much of this season, and while Michigan has the conference's fourth-best defensive rating, it still ranks in just the 62nd percentile. Hard to see them slowing down Baylor.

The big test — assuming things on Saturday go chalk and UConn defeats Iowa — will be in the Elite Eight. On paper, the UConn Huskies are good. They have Paige Bueckers, the star Freshman guard who might be the best player in the country. They have other nice perimeter pieces like Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams. They have some size inside with Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aaliyah Edwards.

For Baylor to win that game, they'll need to rely on DiDi Richards to slow Bueckers down, forcing the rest of UConn's team to beat them. Bueckers is great; the rest of the Huskies are very, very good. There's a distinction there, and Baylor will need to find a way to exploit it.

 

Can Texas A&M play a normal game?

So far for the Aggies: two nailbiting wins, including one in overtime that featured Jordan Nixon's heroic buzzer beater.

Can A&M play a game that actually looks like an A&M game in this tournament?

Maybe against Arizona. The Aggies faced the highest-paced team in the country in the first round and then one of the top shooting teams in the second round. But Arizona — while very good — isn't absurdly good on that end, which should let A&M play like A&M wants to play: work the ball into N'dea Jones and Ciera Johnson, get players like Nixon and Kayla Wells to drive inside and occasionally hit threes, and rely more on Aaliyah Wilson.

A&M has definitely not looked as good as the other top seeds so far. They have a 13th percentile defensive rating so far in the tournament. They have the worst net rating of any team still alive.

But this is still the same team that only lost two games this season. The Aggies know how to win games.

 

Texas will try to slow down Maryland

Maryland has the best offense in the country. They had a 125.7 offensive rating this year — Iowa was second at 117.1.

Meanwhile, Texas had the third-best defensive rating in the Big 12 this past season.

In other words, I don't really like Texas' chances of slowing down the Terrapins, which means Texas is going to need to find some offense and force some miscues from Maryland.

So, where do the Longhorns find offense?

Two places: strong guard play from Celeste Taylor, Kyra Lambert, and Joanne Allen-Taylor again like they got in their win over UCLA, but also they're going to need Charli Collier to score more than the five points.

Collier has struggled in some of Texas' bigger games, like when Baylor has shut her down multiple times. The projected WNBA lottery pick has the ability to score from all over; she'll need to be aggressive in this one for the Horns to keep up with Maryland.

And if they do get past the Terps? Then they're likely looking at South Carolina and Aliyah Boston, one of the best bigs in the country. This is a really tough path forward, but maybe head coach Vic Schaefer can work some more of his magic.

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