April 13, 2021

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Elite Eight takeaways from men’s tournament: Bears get their groove back; Beavers have much to celebrate

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Two tickets to the men’s Final Four were punched Monday as Houston and Baylor are headed back to the national semifinals after long absences.

The Cougars took an early lead and then held off a late challenge from Oregon State to reach the final weekend for the first time since 1984.

The Bears are back for the first time in 71 years following their defeat of former Southwest Conference foe Arkansas in the second game of the day. 

The two teams will meet Saturday. But before then, let’s take a look at what we learned from the first two Elite Eight games.

Baylor has its mojo back

Baylor guard MaCio Teague celebrates the Bears' first trip to the Final Four in 71 years.

There was a time when the Bears looked like they could be headed for an early exit in the Sweet 16. They trailed Villanova by seven at halftime. The nation’s leaders in three-point shooting couldn’t hit a shot and the pressure of being a No. 1 seed seemed to be getting to them.

None of that appeared to be the case early against Arkansas. Baylor’s game looked free and relaxed. The Bears constantly broke down the Razorbacks for open shots. Threes were falling. Easy layups and dunks were the fruits of their unselfish play.

When the game got close in the second half, up stepped MaCio Teague with a pair of clutch threes to push the lead back above double figures.

It was a scary reminder of how good this team is. Only Gonzaga has been more impressive this season, and a matchup with the Bulldogs appears inevitable if Monday’s performance can be replicated against Houston.

Houston isn’t going to be an easy out

Speaking of the Cougars, this is a team that is a nightmare to play against. Their numbers are impressive. First in field-goal percentage defense. Second in scoring defense. Sixth in rebound margin.

The stats, though, are only part of the story. This is a team that plays hard every possession. It fights for every rebound and loose ball. It’s the quintessential Kelvin Sampson team that will make you beat it, rather than giving the game away. It’s not a surprise that the starting backcourt from Sampson’s other Final Four team (Oklahoma in 2002) – Hollis Price and Quannas White – are on his staff. 

ANALYSIS: Kelvin Sampson has rehabilitated Houston. What about his baggage?

ANALYSIS: How good are the Cougars? It’s hard to tell.

Arkansas goes cold at the worst possible time

The Razorbacks did what they had done all tournament: Got down double figures then found a way to fight back into the game. It worked in their first three victories. Surely, it wouldn’t work against No. 1 seed Baylor when they were down 18 in the first half?

But it did. Arkansas kept coming. It pressured the Bears out of their comfort zone. Slowly, things tightened. The Razorbacks got within four with 9:34 left and it seemed like the tide was turning in their favor. 

Then they didn’t just go cold from the field. They were frigid. Arkansas missed its next 12 shots. Some were layups. Some were open threes. Free throws kept the Razorbacks within shouting distance. When Justin Smith hit a layup eight minutes after the previous field goal, Baylor led by eight and the game was essentially over. 

WINNERS AND LOSERS: Who’s moving on and who’s going home?

Oregon State should keep head up

The ending is always painful, but there’s so much for the Beavers to celebrate after their exit in the Elite Eight. It was the school’s first trip to the regional finals since 1982 and it wouldn’t have happened without the school winning its first Pac-12 tournament title.

Their three NCAA Tournament wins came against Tennessee, Oklahoma State and Loyola Chicago. Even in the loss to Houston, they showed their character by rallying from a 13-point deficit in the second half to tie the score with three minutes left. Time just ran out. With time, the pain will subside and the achievements will be appreciated.

There’s also nothing that says this can’t be the start of something big for Oregon State and a launching pad to more tournament showings.

Follow colleges reporter Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith

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