After cruising past their first opponent of the Tournament, Baylor Men’s Basketball faces their first real test early this afternoon against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
This is not one of the championship-caliber UNC teams that you may be familiar with from the prior two decades. UNC has only won 4 of 11 games against Tournament teams this year, so while they are definitely capable of winning today, Baylor is the more battle-tested and successful team.
Here are three stats that will determine if Baylor can end UNC’s season with an even 4 of 12 record against Tournament teams.
Three Point Offense and Defense
I’m cheating and combining two stats into one here because there are interesting things to say about both teams’ three point offense and defense.
Baylor takes slightly fewer threes than the average team — their three point rate is 38% (178th in the country) — and they are as successful as the average team on those attempts — their three point shooting percentage is 34% (171st in the country).
I expect those numbers to go up against a UNC team that fields an otherwise solid defense that struggles to contest perimeter shots. UNC’s opponents register a 2.2 percentage point higher three point shooting percentage when they play UNC than they average in other games (313st in the country).
When UNC has the ball, they are slightly less likely to take threes than Baylor — their three point rate is 37% (190th in the country) — but they make a higher percentage of them — their three point shooting percentage is 36% (60th in the country).
I expect those numbers to go down against a Baylor team that excels at contesting perimeter shots. Baylor holds their opponents to a 3.5 percentage point lower three point shooting percentage than their opponents average in other games (38th in the country).
I think UNC’s best chance for an upset is a strong three point shooting night with a cold performance from Baylor. Fortunately, the defenses favor the Bears.
A key game-within-the-game is Baylor’s offensive rebounding versus UNC’s defensive rebounding. The Bears are ordinarily an elite offensive rebounding team with an offensive rebounding rate of 35% (8th in the country), but the Tar Heels are the best defensive rebounding team in the country. They hold their opponents to an 8.9 percentage point lower offensive rebounding rate than their opponents average in other games.
On the other side of the court, UNC is an above average offensive rebounding team, with an offensive rebounding rate of 28% (123rd in the country), and Baylor is an average defensive rebounding team, holding their opponents to a 1.2 percentage point lower offensive rebounding rate than their opponents average in other games (168th in the country).
Obviously the best way to neutralize UNC’s strength is for Baylor to make all of their shots and leave no defensive rebounding opportunities for UNC. Since that is absolutely not going to happen, we need our front court to box out well and out-muscle the Tar Heels.
The turnover stats for both teams are similar to their three point shooting stats. UNC does a better job than Baylor on offense, but Baylor does a better job on defense.
When the Bears have the ball, they turn it over on 17% of possessions (171st in the country). That’s definitely higher than you’d like for a championship contender, but it shouldn’t be a huge problem today. UNC’s opponents have a 4 percentage point lower turnover rate when they play UNC than they average in other games (351st in the country).
When the Tar Heels have the ball, they turn it over on 16% of possessions (72nd in the country). While better than Baylor ordinarily, it might not be good enough in this matchup. Baylor forces their opponents to turn the ball over 3.6 percentage points more often than their opponents average in other games (24th in the country).
Anything can happen in March, but Baylor is the better team, and they should show it today.
Ken Pom Prediction: Baylor 78, North Carolina 71