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In a gauntlet of a conference, Baylor positioned itself among the upper half of the group. The Bears have earned victories over some of the nation’s best, such as UCLA, Gonzaga, Kansas, and Texas, but also approach the Big 12 Tournament with three Ls from their last five contests.
There are still some vestiges of that 2021 title-winning team on this one. Adam Flagler, LJ Cryer, Flo Thamba, and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua – back in early February after a nasty knee injury from last season forced him out for nearly a calendar year – are still making an impact. Baylor has March experience and a head coach who has taken a team to the mountaintop in recent memory, and that could propel the Bears to a national championship.
Last National Championship: 2021
Last Final Four: 2021
2023 Title Odds: +1500 (as of March 6, 2023)
Why Baylor Will Make a Run
The Bears have one of the most effective offenses in the country. They’re No. 2 in adjusted offensive efficiency according to both KenPom and T-Rank, are second in the Big 12 in points per game (77.3), and rank in the top 30 nationally in three-pointers attempted. With the three-headed backcourt monster of Flagler, Cryer, and Keyonte George, opposing defenses have so much to deal with on the perimeter. Flagler and Cryer are especially lethal from deep – defenses are forced to stretch wide or provide open looks to shooters who connect more than 41 percent of the time from beyond the arc. Plus, Baylor gets to the free-throw line more than most teams.
Baylor is also exceptional on the offensive glass. Scott Drew’s team crashes the offensive boards as a unit and comes away with nearly 12 per outing, the best mark in the Big 12. They use these extra opportunities to give their shooters second chances, which generally become more available as the defense scrambles for loose balls.
Why Baylor Will Exit Early
They’re good on the offensive glass, but the Bears don’t do as well on the defensive side. They rank 314th nationally in defensive rebounds per game, which doesn’t help their overall defense much. Baylor opponents are shooting 53.2 percent from inside the arc, indicative of too many easy opportunities in front of the basket.
In all, this just isn’t a great defensive team. Baylor doesn’t force a lot of turnovers, gives up a good number of points inside, and is ranked outside of the top 80 in adjusted defensive efficiency in KenPom and T-Rank. If the Bears come up against a team that can really exploit them down low, then that could be insurmountable.
What It’ll Take to Win
Baylor will probably need to clean up its failings on the defensive side of things to win a national championship. Otherwise, it’ll take absolutely heroic performances from its trio of excellent guards to score this team out of trouble.
Regardless of what happens on the other end, the Bears will put a lot of the scoring burden on Flagler, Cryer, and George. These three are responsible for more than 40 percent of the team’s average offensive output at the moment. They have to keep doing what they have been on offense – drawing fouls, making threes and distributing the basketball positively. It would be ideal for George to clean up his turnovers and either shoot fewer triples or make more of the ones he takes, though.