NEW ORLEANS -- A couple of Sweet 16 berths will be decided Saturday in the Big Easy.
And no matter how it shakes out, some droughts will be coming to an end. Some longer than others.
Kentucky, with all its tradition, hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2005.
Wake Forest’s last Sweet 16 trip came during the 2004 season when a guy named Chris Paul was running the show in Winston-Salem.
Baylor and Old Dominion have never reached the Sweet 16 under the current format. The Bears lost in the national championship game to Kentucky in 1948, but the tournament included just eight teams back then.
Here’s a preview of Saturday’s East Regional second-round games at New Orleans Arena:
Game 1: (3) Baylor vs. (11) Old Dominion, 5:45 p.m. ET
How they got here: The Bears (26-7) beat Sam Houston State 68-59 in the first round, a game that was tied with a little more than three minutes to play. It was Baylor’s first NCAA tournament win in 60 years. The Monarchs (27-9) beat Notre Dame 51-50 in the first round. It was their first NCAA tournament win in 15 years. They’ve won six straight games and nine of their last 10 heading into Saturday’s game.
Scouting the game: If you like defense, then settle in. Old Dominion wouldn’t mind “uglying” this one up. The Monarchs win with defense and rebounding. Notre Dame was their 12th opponent this season to be held to 50 points or less. The Bears also play smothering defense, ranking ninth nationally in field-goal percentage defense. They held Sam Houston State to 34 percent shooting on Thursday. The difference in the two teams is that Baylor wants to get out and run, make the game an up-and-down affair and force Old Dominion to play in the 80s. The Monarchs are extremely balanced offensively and don’t lean on one or two players. Seven different players have led Old Dominion this season in scoring. Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh could end up being the ‘X’ factor in this game. He’s a shot-blocking machine in the middle and doesn’t give up anything easy around the basket.
Bear to watch: Senior guard Tweety Carter is coming off a subpar game with a season-low two points on 1-of-3 shooting. He was just never able to get involved in the offense and was neutralized by Sam Houston State playing a triangle-and-two defense. That was just one game, though, and Carter is just as capable of going off for 20-plus points in Saturday’s game.
Monarch to watch: Senior forward Gerald Lee is the only player on the team averaging in double figures. He was quiet in the first-round win over Notre Dame with just nine points and three rebounds. But with Baylor starting three players 6-10 or taller, the Monarchs will need more out of Lee offensively. He’s an unselfish player and will get the ball to the open man. But he’s also Old Dominion’s most reliable option when they need big baskets.
They said it: “They’ve got an outstanding defense and have done it against quality teams. They beat Georgetown by holding them to 57 points, so they’re a Top 20 defense in the country for a reason. They’ve got size and length and have a lot of similarities to our team.” -- Baylor coach Scott Drew
Game 2: (1) Kentucky vs. (9) Wake Forest, 8:15 p.m. ET
How they got here: The Wildcats (33-2) routed East Tennessee State 100-71 in the first round and were never threatened. They shot 51.7 percent from the field and led by as many as 40 points in the second half. The Demon Deacons (20-10) beat Texas 81-80 in overtime in the first round on Ishmael Smith's pull-up jumper with 1.3 seconds to play. Wake Forest had lost five of its last six games coming into the tournament.
Scouting the game: Wake Forest is one of the few teams in the country that can match Kentucky’s size. That said, keep an eye on the Deacons’ 7-foot senior center, Chas McFarland, and the Wildcats’ 6-11 freshman forward, DeMarcus Cousins. McFarland has gotten under more than a few players’ skin in the ACC, and Cousins has had a problem at times this season with keeping his emotions in check. He vowed not to be lured into any extra-curricular stuff with McFarland. “I’m telling you all now. I’m not trying to get in a fistfight. I’m just trying to play ball,” said Cousins, who's drifted in and out of foul trouble this season. The Deacons insist they want to run with the Wildcats, who are scary in the transition game when everything’s clicking. Smith was called a one-man fast break by Texas coach Rick Barnes, but he has to keep his turnovers down against the Wildcats. He had eight in the win over Texas. The Wildcats turn turnovers into points, and it starts with freshman point guard John Wall, who leaves his own vapor trail when he’s blazing up the court. The Deacons killed the Longhorns on the boards Thursday. If they’re going to hang around in this one, they’re going to need their share of second-chance points.
Wildcat to watch: Freshman guard Eric Bledsoe has been on a tear. He made a Kentucky NCAA tournament-record eight 3-pointers in the first-round win over East Tennessee State and is 15-of-21 from 3-point range over his last three games. When he’s shooting well and scoring at a high clip, the Wildcats are just about impossible to defend with all of their other weapons. In Kentucky’s only two losses this season against South Carolina and Tennessee, he was a combined 5-of-17 from the field and 1-of-6 from 3-point range.
Deacon to watch: Sophomore forward Al-Farouq Aminu had 20 points and 15 rebounds in the Deacons’ first-round win over Texas. He was the only player in the ACC this season that averaged a double-double with 15.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. At 6-9, he’s the kind of inside-outside threat that could cause trouble for Kentucky’s big men and is also an explosive finisher in transition.
They said it: “The one thing I talked about is we’re not a 3-point shooting team. That’s not why we win. We win because of defense. We win because of rebounding. We win because of our shot-blocking ability and our ability to create good shots for each other. If we make 3s, we’re better than that. But that’s not why we win.” -- Kentucky coach John Calipari