The No. 8 seed Syracuse Orange (20-13) have made it to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years and will take on the No. 9 seed Baylor Bears (19-13) on Thursday night. The first round matchup tips off no earlier than 9:57 p.m. ET from Salt Lake City, Utah, and will air on TruTV.
As we often do, we reached out to our opponent to gather intel prior to the game and Kendall Kaut from Our Daily Bears was kind enough to answer our questions on Baylor. We’ve abbreviated Our Daily Bears to ODB, not to be confused with one of the founding members of Wu Tang or Odell Beckham.
TNIAAM: How would you summarize Baylor’s season up until now?
ODB: The Bears looked doomed after Tristan Clark, Baylor’s best player went out. Baylor was 9-6 and 1-2 in the Big 12. They managed to reel off six straight wins in conference play without him.
The Bears were picked 9th in the Big 12, and they finished 4th. They made the NCAA Tournament after losing Clark, and with two awful losses in the non-conference. This was a good season for Baylor.
TNIAAM: Was there any surprise as to where the Bears were seeded or placed in the Salt Lake City location?
ODB: Not at all. Baylor was somewhere in the 8-10 range on almost every site. They had to overcome those two quadrant four losses.
TNIAAM: Why has this team lost four straight games down the stretch?
ODB: They’ve lost to three really good teams in those games. Against Kansas, Baylor missed a lot of open threes. Against Kansas State, they didn’t take enough threes. And Iowa State got ridiculously hot during the Big 12, a reminder that Iowa State radically underachieved this season.
TNIAAM: What changed for Baylor when Tristan Clark went down with his season-ending knee injury?
ODB: The Bears--before the injuries later on--went to a three guard lineup and started firing threes.
Baylor’s top-line numbers are very misleading. This was the second worst 3-point shooting team among power seven teams during non-conference play. Baylor was the Big 12’s best 3-point shooting team. They fixed their offense by grabbing offensive boards (second nationally) and making deep shots.
TNIAAM: What’s the latest with Makai Mason’s toe injury? Anyone else on this team battling some bruises?
ODB: He will play, but he’s dealing with that. Scott Drew said in his press conference after the bracket reveal that it would take 4-6 weeks of staying off it to heal completely. He looked good against Iowa State, but he was hobbling some on defense in the second half.
King McClure had a knee injury and missed five games. He hasn’t quite been the same.
Jared Butler and Mark Vital have minor injuries as well. All four will play on Thursday.
TNIAAM: Jared Butler seems to do a lot for this team despite being a freshman.
ODB: Yes. He’s been incredible. He scored 31 points--without Makai Mason playing--in Allen Fieldhouse on the last day of the regular season.
TNIAAM: Baylor is amongst the leaders in offensive rebounding percentage. How does it do that by being the shortest team in the Big 12 and how crucial will crashing the glass be in this matchup?
ODB: The Bears generally have one insane offensive rebounder then a cast of good pieces. Mark Vital has been top 25 in offensive rebounding rate all season, and he destroys people on the boards. Baylor works to send multiple people on the glass.
This will be one of two key matchups in this game. Syracuse was 335th in defensive rebounding. Baylor was second in offensive rebounding. While the rosters are different, Baylor grabbed 50 percent of their misses in that 2013 game against Syracuse in Maui. Baylor will have to grab a ton on Thursday too.
TNIAAM: Syracuse is amongst the nation’s leaders in turnover percentage. Does Baylor struggle in the turnover category?
ODB: Yes. That is the second big stat. Baylor should crush Syracuse on the boards. Syracuse should eviscerate Baylor with turnovers. How much one team gets an edge from those two overwhelming advantage areas seems to dictate the game. Baylor has been sub 250 in offensive turnover rate since December. The Bears have a slower tempo and a host of guys that turn it over a lot.
TNIAAM: For this game, how much would you expect Baylor to play man vs. 1-3-1?
ODB: I’d expect Baylor to primarily play zone, If Baylor plays man-to-man, it’s a very bad sign for Baylor.
Syracuse has bigger players and good athletes capable of getting their own shot off the dribble. The Bears would rather Syracuse take 40 threes than have them take 25 shots near the hoop.
TNIAAM: Lastly, who wins, what’s the final score and why?
ODB: I’ll say Baylor wins 74-70. I don’t think the late streak is anything too concerning with the team. I think Devonte Bandoo hits a few threes against the 2-3 zone, and I think Syracuse fails to get as hot as they need from the perimeter. KenPom gives Baylor a 48% chance, and the line opened Syracuse -1.5, so anything feels possible. I think Baylor gets it done with a nice shooting day.