NCAA Tournament Oklahoma City bracket preview: Beyond Baylor

USA TODAY Sports

The Baylor Lady Bears are the top seed in the Oklahoma City Bracket and the favorite to win the national title. However, there are a number of interesting matchups, both individual and team, that are worth watching.

I wish I could sit here and tell you something insightful about some team who might stand in Baylor's way of returning to the Final Four, but unfortunately I can't.

They're simply too dominant to be able to predict where a loss would come from.

Favorite: Baylor Lady Bears

So no sense beating around the bush: Baylor is probably going to win this bracket (and I'm only limiting the scope because this is a bracket preview).

The statistical story for Baylor is simple and a familiar story for national title contenders: they're just dominant in every single significant category.

eFg%

Fta/Fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Baylor

54.05%

33.51%

39.47%

15.97%

Opp

37.80%

18.32%

30.03%

20.99%

Weighted

eFg%

fta/fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Baylor

1.63

0.32

0.40

0.4221

Four Factors statistics for the Baylor Lady Bears in the 2012-13 season.

Yet one thing that is still worth highlighting about this team - because it gets far too little attention - is just how well this roster fits together as a unit. This was alluded to in more detail earlier today when looking at draft prospects in this region, but - to state it more concisely - the Lady Bears' "role players" almost perfectly complement star center Brittney Griner and point guard Odyssey Sims.

Brooklyn Pope and Destiny Williams are athletic offensive rebounders, which covers up Griner's biggest "weakness" (a 9.72% offensive rebounding percentage). Kimetria Hayden and Jordan Madden's 3-point shooting ability (38% and 40%, respectively) spreads the court to open up driving lanes for Sims and post position for Griner; their efficiency as distributors helps Baylor move the ball and get it to Griner (though you could either say the real explanation is that having Griner to pass to helps their efficiency as distributors). Even if neither Hayden nor Madden hit more than one three a game and have low usage rates overall, they're exactly the type of guards you need to complement Griner and Sims. That's to say nothing of what it means to have 6-foot guards to defend the perimeter while 6-foot-8 Griner defends the paint.

So how do you beat them? As with last year, it goes back to teams that played them relatively close: have a big who can step out to hit mid-range jumpers or work in pick and roll situations; have guards who can disrupt Sims and make it tough on Baylor to enter the ball into the post. And the consistent pattern in teams that play them close for any amount of time - from UConn to Kansas State - is exactly that.

It's possible to beat Baylor; the problem is maintaining what needs to be done for 40 minutes. Thus far this season, that hasn't happened in any situation when they've been at full strength.

Still, that doesn't mean this entire bracket is simply devoid of excitement.

Upset watch: #11 Central Michigan Chippewas vs. #6 Oklahoma Sooners

I didn't really "discover" this one on my own - Matt Sussman of SB Nation's Hustle Belt probably deserves primary credit for this for writing on the day after they won the MAC championship that, "Whoever draws them in the first round will have more than a tough test."

As Sussman points out, they are undersized with no player over 6-foot-2. But their win over Texas on a neutral court back in December is illustrative of how they might be able to pull this one off: Longhorns 6-foot-7 center Imani McGee-Stafford dominated the paint, but the rest of the Longhorns shot 34.6% from the field and the Chippewas forced 24 turnovers.

Two things might bode well for CMU against Oklahoma: first, they've shown the ability to beat bigger teams with perimeter defense. Second, the Chippewas are a much better rebounding team than the Sooners both on the season and using Texas as a common opponent - despite their size disadvantage, they only gave up a 13-6 differential in second chance points to Texas. In contrast, Oklahoma lost the battle of second chance points 21-5 in Austin (but to be fair, they won it in Norman).

eFg%

Fta/Fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Oklahoma

49.23%

33.12%

31.32%

19.30%

Opp

42.37%

26.61%

33.06%

17.34%

Weighted

eFg%

fta/fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Oklahoma

0.69

0.14

-0.07

-0.1646

Four Factors statistics for the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2012-13 season.

Throw in the fact that the Sooners tend to turn the ball over playing at a slightly slower pace than the Chippewas and you have the recipe for a potential upset that wouldn't be terribly surprising.

Game to watch: #7 Syracuse vs. #2 Tennessee

These two teams actually have very similar statistical profiles overall though the Lady Vols are a much better 3-point shooting team (36%) and the Orange force turnovers more often (23% opponent turnover percentage).

eFg%

Fta/Fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Tennessee

48.83%

30.30%

39.35%

17.89%

Opp

41.78%

22.44%

32.86%

18.55%

Weighted

eFg%

fta/fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Tennessee

0.70

0.16

0.27

5.51%

Four Factors statistics for the Tennessee Lady Vols in the 2012-13 season.

Syracuse has a pair of guards in Elashier Hill and Carmen Tyson-Thomas that can rebound, score and force turnovers. If Hall can keep her own turnovers down in this matchup and Tyson-Thomas can get to the line, those two could cause problems on the perimeter. And a big game from 6-foot-4 Syracuse center Kayla Alexander - a solid WNBA Draft prospect - could really make things hard on Tennessee: the Orange are an outstanding offensive rebounding team and if the game turns into a sloppy, physical game it could favor Syracuse. But that's where the injury report becomes important.

X-Factor: Isabelle Harrison, F, Tennessee Lady Vols

As reported by Dan Fleser of GoVolsXtra, Harrison is practicing again after missing the last three games due to a MCL injury but it's not clear how far along she is physically. If she's not able to go or not at 100% and the Lady Vols get in foul trouble trying to defend Alexander, it could spell trouble for the two seed in the OKC region.

Darkhorse: Syracuse Orange

Obviously, getting past Tennessee in Knoxville no matter who is dressed to play will be tough for Syracuse. But out of all the lower seeds they have a reasonable chance on paper. But a large part of their success will hinge upon what they're able to do defensively: they play a zone and both Tennessee and first round opponent Creighton shoots 36% from the 3-point line.

Creighton is a team that lives and dies by the 3-point shot and could conceivably catch fire against a zone defense, though their undoing might be a lack of size to stop Alexander if the Orange give her the ball consistently. Tennessee is far less dependent on the three, but if they can put pressure on Syracuse's defense with 3-pointers - again, in Knoxville - the upset bid could come up short.

But the key for the Orange is that they hold opponents to just 27.36% shooting from beyond the arc.

eFg%

Fta/Fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Syracuse

45.23%

32.29%

42.59%

18.42%

Opp

39.30%

22.25%

35.44%

23.44%

Weighted

eFg%

fta/fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Syracuse

0.59

0.21

0.30

0.42

Four Factors statistics for the Syracuse Orange in the 2012-13 season.

It's not unreasonable to suggest that they could find their way to the Sweet 16 with a combination of perimeter defense and post offense.

Wild card: Purdue Boilermakers

Turnover prone teams are sometimes their own worst enemy in tournament play and that could hurt them in this particular sub-regional.

eFg%

Fta/Fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Purdue

48.09%

33.15%

36.82%

21.42%

Opp

42.51%

25.43%

33.17%

19.21%

Weighted

eFg%

fta/fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Purdue

0.56

0.16

0.15

-0.1860

First round opponent Liberty forces quite a few turnovers (22% opponent turnover percentage) and has been very impressive on the boards (50.86% offensive rebounding percentage), which is due in part to freshman reserves Katelyn Adams (6-foot-5) and Catherine Kearney (6-foot-4). If Purdue has an off day, Liberty is a team that might capitalize.

Should Purdue advance, Louisville is another team that thrives on offensive rebounding and forcing turnovers (25.92% opponents' turnover percentage). While the Cardinals don't have quite the size that Liberty does, again Purdue's negative turnover differential could haunt them.

But what might help Purdue - even playing in Louisville - might be that they're a very balanced team. Four players essentially share the responsibility for the team's success: KK Houser, Courtney Moses, Drey Mingo, and Sam Ostarello. They're not dependent on one player and that could help them adjust to a number of situations.

Yet returning to the point about turnovers, that balance extends to that as well: five players in their rotation have turnover ratios of over 15%, including ball handler KK Houser with a team-high 20.96% turnover ratio.

WNBA prospect spotlight: Niveen Rasheed vs. Florida State

Unfortunately, there's a chance the national audience might only get to see Niveen Rasheed for one round, but there's no reason to believe that they can't play with first round opponent FSU.

The key statistic to watch in this matchup will be offensive rebounding: Princeton has established a huge offensive rebounding differential over opponents (nearly 15%) and offensive rebounding is FSU's biggest weakness.

eFg%

Fta/Fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Princeton

47.85%

28.12%

40.20%

16.72%

Opp

37.70%

29.67%

25.99%

21.86%

Weighted

eFg%

fta/fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Princeton

1.01

-0.03

0.60

0.43

And even as a guard, the 6-foot Rasheed's rebounding ability is a major part of that: she leads the team in offensive rebounding percentage at 11.82%. That's extremely impressive from the guard position no matter what type of competition she was playing against and a large part of why she should be considered a solid WNBA prospect.

Fun statistic

Griner's pure point rating of -0.73 is better than all but one player on Purdue's roster (junior guard Dee Dee Williams' PPR is -0.71). That's not to say that Griner should be trotted out as a point guard for Baylor - her assist ratio is just 10.45% - but it does say something extremely impressive about the Lady Bears star: her turnover ratio of 7.94%, averaging less than two per game, is absolutely remarkable when you consider how often the ball is in her hands while facing triple teams. I mean, being able to see over defenders probably helps - you might've heard that she's 6-foot-8 - but even still it's stunning efficiency with the ball in her hands.

For more on the tournament, visit our 2013 NCAA Tournament section.

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