Let me start by saying I should not be allowed to write on St. Patrick’s Day or right after Baylor wins a tournament game. But this quick turnaround is some Big J journalism stuff so I battled through. What you are about to read is a cleaned up version of what I rambled through Thursday night. I kept in some of the flavor, but it was in everyone’s best interest that I clean it up ever so slightly.
I am fully on board the Baylor is a wagon train and can’t wait to watch us bulldoze the East Region. As I am writing this Kentucky has been upset by Saint Peter’s, and the frauds that are UCLA almost got offed by the Zips of Akron. This leaves a nice little path for the crew. Apologies, I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
UNC is a blue blood, but I’m simply not worried. This Tarheel lineup is paper thin and I am looking for the smoke. Let’s jump right in family.
Setting the Scene
The Who: #8 UNC MBB x #1 Baylor MBB
The What: Round of 32
The Where: Dickies Arena | Ft. Worth, Texas
The When: Saturday 11:10 AM CT on CBS
How We Got Here
Baylor and UNC both dog walked their way through the Round of 64. The Bears smoked Norfolk State and it was never close. I was impressed with the Spartan fight but thankfully the talent gap was just too wide. Full disclosure (not that I would question the DrewTang Clan) I wish we pulled the rotation guys sooner.
The Tarheels embarrassed the Shaka Smart led Marquette Golden Eagles and had a sweat free win. UNC was widely picked against and a number of analysts thought they may get “upset”. Instead they had the most convincing win on Thursday, which has some Baylor fans panicked.
I just do not buy the Tarheel hype. Little sneak peak I’ve got the Bears by double digits.
UNC Eye Test
Full disclosure, I have only watched the Tarheels’ games versus Duke and Marquette. So this is the definition of a knee jerk eye test. But we gotta trust the tape here.
This Hubert Davis led Tarheel team has a number of things they do well on both sides of the ball. Following the win against Marquette, the Tarheels rank 24th in KenPom and 18th in EvanMiya. This game will not be a cake walk, but the boys will be ready.
Here’s what to expect from the Heels.
The North Carolina offense goes as their stud forward Armando Bacot goes. They will often play through Bacot relying on him to score and create for others. The Tarheels share the sugar and most of their buckets come off assists. UNC ranks 47th in the country in total assists, dishing out just over 14 APG.
UNC is a high level three point shooting team. They rank 53rd in the country shooting 36.21% from deep. Interestingly enough the Tarheels don’t have a guy who can knock down jumpers off the dribble. Instead they rely on their strong passing at every position to find their spot up shooters.
UNC’s efficient passing isn’t just to shooters outside the arc. They do a great job moving the ball inside the three point stripe. The Heels will often make multiple passes in and around the paint. This is crucial to create space for them to operate as they don’t really have a high level burner athlete.
Quite literally the most dangerous part of this Tarheel offense is when teams overcommit on Bacot and he finds other players in space. Teams that play fundamentally sound defense and stay on their man can stifle this Carolina offense.
A couple of final quick numbers, the Tarheels rank 35th in scoring offense at 77.5 PPG, largely due to their success from deep. Carolina ranks 110th in overall field goal percentage shooting just 45.25% from the field. When the Tarheels are chased off the three point line they struggle to convert.
I won’t mix words, this just isn’t a good defensive ball club. The Tarheels rank 247th in scoring defense, giving up about 71.7 PPG. Keep in mind only 350 teams in men’s college hoops, so 247th is low key cheeks. The biggest factor here is their weak help defense. The Tarheels will play solid on ball defense but seem to fall asleep off ball. Carolina can be beat on cross court passes and back door cuts.
UNC is pretty weak defending ball screens and often chase the primary ball handler over the screen. This is to avoid having their slower big men switched onto faster players. EXPOSE BRADY MANEK.
The Tarheels just don’t have a stopper other than Bacot, and he is really only effective at the rim. Nobody on this team is really that athletic so the Tarheels can be taken advantage of in transition.
Quick hit numbers on the Tarheel defense to finish. UNC ranks 267th in opponent three point field goal percentage, opponents knock down about 35% of their threes. Baylor should be able to bury these dudes from deep.
Carolina only forces about 10 turnovers per game, which sits 339th in the country. So only 11 teams in the entire nation are worse at forcing turnovers. The Bears have to avoid shooting themselves in the foot, Carolina’s defense won’t cause many issues.
The only thing Carolina is elite at defensively is defensive rebounding. The Tarheels rank 6th in the country snagging 29.09 defensive rebounds per game. It will be important for the Bears to get good looks because offensive rebounds are hard to come by.
UNC Players to Watch
#5 Armando Bacot – Forward
Armando Bacot is a 6’ 10” Junior forward. Bacot leads the Tarheels with 16.5 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 1.7 BPG, and shooting percentage at 59.8%. The 59.8% FG% is tied for third best in the nation.
Bacot is certainly the best player on the Tarheels. He is a force in the paint at both ends of the court. On offense he relies on his large frame to bury his defender under the basket and get to his dominant hand. He isn’t overly athletic but his great footwork makes him a threat on the block.
Bacot is also a great passer for post player. He often finds and puts his teammates in a position to get easy shots when defenses crash on him. He will be a difficult matchup on the block for Flo and Sochan.
#2 Caleb Love – Guard
Caleb Love is a 6’ 4” Sophomore guard. Love is the second leading scorer for the Tarheels averaging 15.4 PPG. Love also leads UNC in assists with 3.8 APG and steals with 1.1 SPG. Love isn’t that efficient of a scorer converting only 36.9% of his field goal attempts.
Love is a solid ball handler and is one of the better Tarheel players at creating good looks for himself. He has a decent first step and plays bigger than his 6’ 4” frame would suggest. Love is a good passer and finds his teammates with on time passes for them to convert into easy buckets.
Love is only an average shooter, but still pulls the trigger on a ton of threes. He leads the Tarheels in three point attempts; so opponents have to close out on Love when he spots up. Baylor will have to close out under control because Love will rely on a headfake to leave defenders and get to the rack.
#45 Brady Manek – Forward
Brady Manek is a 6’ 9” Senior forward, and should look familiar to Baylor Nation, Manek began his college career at Oklahoma. In his first year in Chapel Hill, Manek is averaging 14.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 1.9 APG. Manek is the best three point shooter for the Tarheels, knocking down 38.6% of his three balls.
I just simply don’t understand how Brady Manek is good at basketball. This man might be one of the least athletic fellows to walk God’s green earth and he still gave Marquette 28 points and 11 boards.
Manek is a shooter and that is pretty much it in my opinion. He isn’t a great ball handler or finisher inside. I hesitate to say this because he could cook us, but I really think we match up well with Manek.
Baylor should be able to expose Manek on defense. I expect to see us screen and roll Manek into oblivion. This man cannot defend in any capacity.
#4 R.J. Davis – Guard
R.J. Davis is a 6’ 0” Sophomore guard. Davis averages 13.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, and 3.4 APG. Davis doesn’t let his smaller frame get in the way of his production. He is often a spark plug and facilitator for the Tarheels. Davis is able to create for others and also get a bucket on his own.
Davis is the best ball handler on the Tarheels in my opinion. He is great off the dribble and really the only guy to be worried about hitting a pull up jumper. Davis will look to get into isolation and lose his man with a hesitation dribble.
Davis will often back off the three point line to get more space between him and his defender, and then drive directly at the rim and get downhill. He is a physical player for his smaller frame and is an efficient finisher at the rim.
#1 Leaky Black – Guard
Probably one of the best names in college basketball, Leaky Black is a 6’ 8” Senior guard. Black averages 5.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, and 2.5 APG for UNC. He was a highly touted recruit, but has never really become a high producing player. Still, Black has been a staple of consistency for the Tarheels and has been a three year starter in Chapel Hill.
Black is the best on ball defender for the Tarheels. He is a high level athlete and with his 6’ 8” build is difficult to get by off the dribble. Black is a good shot blocker for a guard and is a solid rebounder. He is often matched up on the opponents best player.
Black isn’t a super productive offensive weapon for UNC. He does almost all of his offensive damage at the rim, where he is a decent finisher. Black doesn’t take a lot of jumpers and rarely shoots threes.
Bottom line is that UNC is a good offensive team that is heavily reliant on the three ball and post play; and a really average to borderline suspect defensive team. When games become shoot outs, UNC can win them. If a game is a slug fest, UNC rarely gets the stops they need.
The only matchup that concerns me is Bacot, but I think the Baylor coaching staff is experienced enough to scheme around that mismatch.
Why Baylor Wins
We will handle business again fammo, and get to the Sweet 16.
#0 Flo Thamba – @Flo_T3
Flo had himself a day against Norfolk State in front of his parents. I expect the emotional momentum to continue and Flo to step up big against UNC. We will need him to do so.
Flo will need to play solid defense on Bacot, which is a tall order. Bacot is super physical and loves to draw contact. It will be difficult for Flo to stay out of foul trouble, but I trust him to do so.
If Flo can convert some easy looks in the paint and set great screens to free up the Baylor guards, the offense will run incredibly efficiently. We will need Flo to put a body on a Tarheel when Baylor puts up shots to try and create a few offensive rebounding opportunities.
#1 Jeremy Sochan – @SochanJeremy
Are you all bought in on King Jeremy the first yet? I been shouting from the rooftops that my dude is lotto ready and people sleep. Sochan showed us against Norfolk State that he is a true X Factor for this March Madness run.
Sochan will need to take advantage of the mismatches he causes with the UNC defense. I expect the Baylor offense to attack the Tarheels similarly to how they went at Kansas. Switching our athletes onto either Manek or Bacot and exposing them for the cement footed bigs they are.
Sochan will enter his beautiful European bag and annihilate the UNC bigs. Also Sochan’s game is pretty in pink.
#2 Kendall Brown – @TheeKbrown
KB gave us the highlight reel dunk we were all wanting. It is clear he isn’t at 100% so I hope he has been able to get some additional rest ahead of the clash with UNC because we will need him.
Brown will be able to help us stretch the UNC defense with his athleticism. If KB can get to the rim early and often I think Baylor will be able to get Bacot and Manek into foul trouble. The majesty of Brown’s game is that he can create advantages for the Bears in a number of areas.
#3 Dale Bonner – @dalebonne
Ole reliable Dale. Bonner once again gave Baylor big consistent minutes against Norfolk State. I expect Bonner to play really well against UNC.
Here’s the thing, Bonner doesn’t have the flashiest game by any means; but he makes up for it in effort and consistency. A contributing factor to success in March is a team’s ability to limit mistakes. Bonner will be able to step in against the Tarheels and keep the ship moving forward.
I really like Bonner matching up and causing defensive headaches for some of the UNC guards. The Tarheel ball handlers can get out of control and Bonner’s fundamentally sound feet should help him stay out of foul trouble and disrupt the Heels.
#4 LJ Cryer – @LjCryer
Cryer is for sure out this game. Coach Drew said that he has been cleared and it is a pain tolerance issue. Hopefully we get Cryer back in later rounds when we advance but I am still not optimistic.
#10 Adam Flagler – @adamflagler
Flagler’s jumper is back and it is scary hours for the rest of the world. Adam looked really good against Norfolk State and only played 22 minutes. This will be huge as he should be fresh for UNC.
Flagler should be able to take advantage of the weak UNC three point defense and knock down buckets from beyond the stripe with ease. If Flagler can get it going early and help the Bears open up a lead it will be hard for the Tarheels to come back.
#11 James Akinjo – @akinjojames3 (Insta no Twitter for our boy)
Double double for Akinjo in his first March Madness game? Yes indeed. We have seen all year that Akinjo is made for big moments,and he shined on the biggest stage on Thursday.
Akinjo’s quickness and athleticism will just be too much for any UNC player to handle. If Akinjo can get downhill and expose the heart of the Tarheel defense it will pretty much be a wrap. I would love to see Akinjo look to generate offense inside the arc and set up open shots for Flagler, Mayer, and Sochan.
The only issue may be if Black is switched onto Akinjo, but look for us to screen James out of that matchup.
#23 Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (Everyday Jon aka EJ) – @JonathanTchamwa
EJ was on the sidelines and was a vocal leader. I think his presence will continue to be huge for the tournament run. Also announcers still can’t say his name and it boggles my mind. Like do your job you slaps.
#24 Matthew Mayer – @MatthewMayer24
I told you guys that March was going to be Matthew Mayer time. Mayer set a career high with 22 points in 27 minutes. This may have been the best he has looked since last March, and that is great news for the Bears.
Mayer can blow open this game against UNC. He is a matchup nightmare when he is on fire. Mayer should be able to take advantage of the Tarheel defense at all three levels. He will be able to knock down open threes, pull up in the mid range, and generate good looks at the rim blowing by slower UNC players.
I’m guaranteeing another 15+ point performance. This is March, nah, this is Matthew Mayer Time.
Welcome to the Round of 32, grab a hazy Dr. Mimosa and let’s grind at 11:10 AM CT Saturday morning.
The first half will be super close. A team and program like UNC won’t roll over, especially after a dominant performance like they had against Marquette.
Bacot will get going early and likely have double digit points in the first half, Manek will knock down a few threes, and Leaky faucet will have a few huge defensive plays.
Baylor will be reeling a bit to start the game but eventually steady out, closing the half on a big run led by a flurry of Flagler, Mayer, Akinjo, and Sochan three balls. The first half will close with the Bears up by 4 points.
The second half will open with Baylor picking up right where they left off. Brown will take advantage of the slow footed Manek and yam all over Bacot triggering a full blown momentum shift for the Bears.
UNC will convert some looks down low, and Baylor may get into foul trouble while the Tarheels play through Bacot. The deciding factor will be the thin UNC lineup. The Tarheels will be forced to do what they did against Duke, play only 5 guys in the second half because the bench is cheeks.
Baylor will take advantage of the UNC fatigue and win this baby by double digits, punching their ticket to the Sweet 16.
The line is Baylor -5.5 FYI.
Baylor 78 – UNC 65
Sic ‘Em Bears.