This is March. Your Baylor Bears have secured the #1 Seed in the East and will start their run to repeat this Thursday in Fort Worth. There is no time like the first weekend of March Madness when at any point you could turn the TV to any channel and watch people hoopin. Get excited for the Impractical Jokers commercials on TBS.
Like you, I am bummed that Baylor didn’t get placed in the South Region, but we will settle for the top seed in the East. Truth be told the East Region is dummy tough and I think the Bears have a difficult road ahead after this matchup with Norfolk State. The Bears are in a region with a number of blue bloods and hot teams, they will have to play some A1 ball. Don’t fact check me, but I heard a stat that the East has 8 teams with a National Championship and 40 total championships combined. Sick.
Baylor Nation will have to take this one game at a time because anything can happen, and any game could be the last of the season.
Setting the Scene
The Who: #16 Norfolk State MBB x #1 Baylor MBB
The What: Round of 64
The Where: Dickies Arena | Ft. Worth, Texas
The When: Thursday 1:00 PM CT on TBS
The Why: Title Defense Starts Now
How We Got Here
As we all know the Bears finished the conference season on a bit of a disappointing note. The Bears went ice cold against Oklahoma and were bounced from the Big 12 tourney in the quarterfinals. Broke, I wish Baylor would’ve won the Big 12 tourney. Woke, the rest will help the thin Baylor lineup in the tourney that matters.
Norfolk State is fresh off winning the MEAC Tournament, and finished the season at 24-6. The Spartans sat atop the MEAC in the regular season and carried that momentum into their conference tournament. Norfolk State ran through their conference tournament with an average of margin of victory above 10 points per game. Context is key, they played 9-23 Coppin State in the MEAC Championship game.
Norfolk State isn’t an elite ball club, they rank 168th in KenPom and 167th in EvanMiya. The Spartans are only in the tournament because they won the MEAC. But, it is March Madness and anyone can get hot or cold at any point. Here is what to expect from the Norfolk State Spartans.
Norfolk State Eye Test
I made a promise on Twitter that I would give you as a reader the most in depth Norfolk State preview you could find. I think I still may be providing that product; but let me tell you it was near impossible to find some legitimate extended highlights not put out by the Norfolk State Athletics Department.
I watched one video that was taken on screen capture and another that was seemingly filmed on a camcorder by ESPN. Feel free to click the links and see what I was working with. But still, there were some things I saw, and some stats I looked up to back up what my eyes were telling me. Ultimately, this article is a very small sample size eye test, rest assured it will all be correct.
Norfolk St. Offense
Norfolk State is not a great offensive ball club. They don’t have an elite scorer that will be able to attack Baylor’s defense. The Spartans have a few nice pieces that have led to their success in the MEAC, but by no means do they have some elite talent like Bryant has in Peter Kiss. Sidebar, look up Peter Kiss highlights on YouTube. Bryant plays Wednesday in a First Four game and Peter Kiss is electric. It is a toss up between Peter Kiss and Jelly Walker (UAB) for the sickest player in CBB.
Offensively the Spartans will look to set multiple screens at the top of the key to free up their guards to get downhill and look to create. Norfolk State’s guards drive to the rim with purpose and rarely settle for jumpers. As a team Norfolk State’s offense primarily is run inside the arc. The Spartans rank 264th in the country in 3-point field goal attempts.
Norfolk State big men are solid rollers off screens. The Spartan forwards finish efficiently inside and don’t settle for bad looks. The Norfolk State front court is physical in the paint and will set a number of down screens for driving or cutting players to create space down low.
Some quick numbers on the Norfolk State Spartans offense. I will leave the advanced stats preview to our boy Cody Orr. The Spartans score 75.1 PPG, good for 72nd in the country. Norfolk State shoots 46.58% from the field, ranking 48th in the country. The Spartans execute well on offense, keeping in mind the level of competition.
One place the Spartans can be taken advantage of is in the turnover department. Norfolk State ranks 249th in the country in total turnovers with 420 turnovers in 30 games, 14 TOPG. The Bears are gonna be nabbin cookies on the regular Thursday.
Norfolk St. Defense
Okay this is where the tape is super limited. There is basically 0 film on the Spartans defensively so apologies if I reach on this defensive eye test.
The Spartans will switch absolutely everything. Norfolk State doesn’t have a prototypical big man, the forwards can and will try and stay with a guard. They play physical on ball defense and will look to cheat off the ball in the passing lanes.
The most glaring weakness that shows from Norfolk State is their over aggressiveness on ball fakes. The tape shows their defenders closing out and leaving their feet whenever they see the ball. This holds true on ball fakes on a pass as well. The off ball defender will jump his man and can be beat back door.
Strangely enough, Norfolk State has some pretty impressive defensive rankings as a result of the lesser competition. Nationally, the Spartans rank 2nd in Opponent Field Goal Percentage (37.422%), 9th in Opponent Three-Point Field Goal Percentage (28.8%), 9th in Defensive Rebounds Per Game (28.73), and 36th in Scoring Defense (63.7 Opponent PPG). My gut tells me this is because they don’t play a ton of good shooting teams.
The Spartans foul a ton. They rank 208th in Total Fouls at 530 fouls, averaging 17.6 fouls per game. The Bears will need to knock down their free throws.
Norfolk St. Players to Watch
#4 Joe Bryant Jr. – Guard
Joe Bryant Jr. is a 6’ 1” Senior guard from Norfolk, VA. Bryant is a hometown kid and has been a three year starter for the Spartans. He leads the team in scoring (16.8 PPG), assists (3.3 APG), and steals (1.4 SPG). Bryant also adds 5.1 RPG, good for third on the team.
Bryant is a big body physical player, dude is a fullback for real. He is a decent shooter from deep, but isn’t going to shoot the lights out. Bryant is really just a fundamentally sound player, he’s not a great athlete and relies on his basketball IQ. He sees the floor decently well and makes smart passes.
#3 Jalen Hawkins – Guard
Jalen Hawkins is a 6’ 2” Senior guard. Hawkins averages 13.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, and 1.3 SPG. He is a good athlete and relies on his quickness to get to the rim.
Hawkins is a reliable spot up shooter, but does most of his damage inside the three-point arc. He can knock down mid range jumpers, but does most of his scoring at the rim.
#30 Kris Bankston – Forward
Kris Bankston is a 6’ 8” Senior forward. Bankston leads the Spartans in rebounding with 6.9 RPG, and blocks with 1.2 BPG. He averages 11.3 PPG and is the teams most efficient scorer, shooting 71.3% from the field. This FG% would lead the nation if he had enough field goal attempts to qualify.
Bankston is a high energy big man, and can guard all five positions. He has great hands and catches almost every pass thrown his way. Bankston uses his physicality to win battles on the boards.
#21 Dana Tate – Forward
Dana Tate is a 6’ 7” Junior forward. Tate averages 9.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 1.2 APG. Tate is a do it all big man for the Spartans. He leads the rotation players in three-point field goal percentage, shooting 44% from deep.
Tate will be the primary option on pick and pop plays where the Spartans look for him to convert from three. He is a decent finisher at the rim and can take the ball to the hoop off the dribble. Tate is a good, quick defender and can match up with anyone on switches.
#5 Tyrese Jenkins – Guard
Tyrese Jenkins is a 6’ 6” Junior guard. Jenkins averages 6.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 1.7 APG. He is a slashing guard with a quick first step.
Teams don’t really have to worry about Jenkins beating them with a jumper from deep. He loves getting to the paint and getting a floater up with his right hand. He has a long wingspan and is a disruptive defender. Jenkins has a thin build so he can be attacked in the paint defensively.
#0 Christian Ings – Guard
Christian Ings is a 6’ 2” Junior guard. Ings averages 9.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.5 APG, and 0.9 SPG. He is the 6th man for Norfolk State, and the Spartans look for Ings to provide a spark off the bench.
Ings has the potential to erupt as a scorer. His scoring season high was 31 points against William & Mary earlier in the season. Ings is a decent athlete and smart cutting player. He has a good first step and can creatively beat his man off the dribble.
Bottom line the Norfolk State Spartans are not on the same level as your Baylor Bears. We should wax these fellas and it shouldn’t be close. A 1 seed has been upset before, but take that energy outta here.
Why Baylor Wins
My goodness this should be self explanatory so I will keep it brief. To be honest we may see some of our deeper bench guys get some minutes in the tourney which would be great. Here’s a look at our core rotation.
#0 Flo Thamba – @Flo_T3
The tallest player on Norfolk State’s roster is 6’ 8”. If Flo isn’t absolutely dominant in the paint I will lose my mind. I anticipate Flo will be a monster down low. Please Flo dunk on these dudes, we don’t need the fundamental layups here.
Flo should be able to get his at the rim offensively, and erase good looks at the rim defensively. The Bears should look to get Flo moving and set a ton of screens, knowing that Norfolk will switch smaller guards onto Thamba.
Heartfelt nugget alert: Flo’s parents will be at the first two rounds watching him play for the first time at Baylor, so he may go nuclear.
#1 Jeremy Sochan – @SochanJeremy
Sochan should be able to dominate every single player on the Norfolk roster. Sochan will be active on both ends of the floor and be able to take advantage of every mismatch.
Sochan will be able to create off the dribble and also make space for others when the ball is in his hands. The biggest issue for Sochan would be getting into foul trouble when switched onto Bankston but I’m not too worried about that.
#2 Kendall Brown – @TheeKbrown
Kendall Brown hasn’t had a highlight reel dunk in a little too long in my opinion. The Norfolk State Spartans talent and roster build matches that of some of our early season opponents. If you remember, some of KB’s highlight reel plays came early in the season.
Look for Brown to use his athleticism to the Bears’ advantage to get to the rim and finish with authority. I expect the Bears to be playing in transition early and often, which will open up a ton of opportunities for a Brown jaw dropping dunk.
#3 Dale Bonner – @dalebonne
Dale Bonner will likely play a high number of minutes. With the limited rotation I expect Drew to try and get Akinjo and Flagler as much rest as possible in the flow of the game. This will open up opportunities for Bonner to get increased meaningful playing time.
Bonner should be able to get some time handling the ball and running the offense. Bonner is more skilled than most players on Norfolk State and should be able to efficiently create plays for himself and others. If Bonner can give the Bears 20 or more minutes it would be huge to get rest for the other guards going into the weekend.
#4 LJ Cryer – @LjCryer
My guess is we don’t see Cryer until the Round of 32 at the earliest. Truth be told, my gut still tells me we won’t see him until next season.
#10 Adam Flagler – @adamflagler
Adam Flagler played some of his best basketball in a Baylor uniform during our tournament run last year. I am assuming the rest has been good for his knee and let’s see if he can’t do something special again this year.
Flagler should be able to space the floor against the Spartans, and knock down open threes when Norfolk State over helps. If Flagler can get in a groove and see a few jumpers go down I think it will do wonders for his confidence going into the rest of the tournament.
#11 James Akinjo – @akinjojames3 (Insta no Twitter for our boy)
Akinjo should be able to leave literally every single player that wears a Norfolk State jersey. I’m not trying to slander a lesser team, but more than anything I am praising the quickness of Akinjo.
Similar to Flagler I think this is a confidence and momentum game for Akinjo. This is Akinjo’s first trip to the big dance so I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes a few minutes to settle in. But, Akinjo has shown to be cold blooded in the biggest moments this year and that will continue this tournament.
#23 Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (Everyday Jon aka EJ) – @JonathanTchamwa
I’m not sure if EJ is traveling with the team. I expect him to, and if so I would look for him to be a vocal leader for the Bears this tournament run.
#24 Matthew Mayer – @MatthewMayer24
Matthew Mayer was electric in March last year and it seemed like he could never miss. I am all aboard the Mayer bandwagon going into March this year. It has been well documented that Mayer is likely moving on from Baylor following this season so I could see him going out there with something to prove.
Mayer stands taller than every player on Norfolk State and is much more athletic and skilled than any of the Spartans. I expect Mayer to go off this game. He will be able to get to the rim at will, be a force on defense, and will knock down a few threes. This will snowball into a huge March from Mayer. Book it. #IMMT.
Remember the Bears started the tournament really slow last year and had us pushin’ (P)anic buttons. Through the first 14 minutes of the Round of 64 matchup with 16 seed Hartford last year the Bears trailed 14-13. The next 26 minutes of that game Baylor outscored Hartford 66-41 and we won by 24. So, don’t be stressed if the Bears start slowly against Norfolk State.
I expect this game to start similarly. The Bears will likely take a few minutes to get rolling and it may be a bit of a back and forth game to start. The Spartans are statistically a “good” defensive team so Baylor may open up cold.
The script will flip when the Bears go on a 10-0 or run. This will be fueled by great defensive intensity, leading to Spartan turnovers and transition buckets for the Bears. Baylor will open up a double digit lead going into halftime.
The second half will never be close. The Bears will continue to get easy buckets and extend the lead to 20 or more. Scott Drew will sub out the starters with about five minutes left to go in the game, and get some of the deeper bench players some tournament minutes. Norfolk State may string together a few buckets and stops, but nothing to make us sweat a victory.
Maybe just bettors sweating the Baylor -21 spread if you’re into that sort of thing.
Baylor 78 – Norfolk State 53
Sic ‘Em Bears.