UNC Basketball: Baylor Bears a beatable team? You bet they are.

MORGANTOWN, WV - MARCH 02: Head coach Scott Drew of the Baylor Bears talks to his players during a time out of during a college basketball game against the West Virginia Mountaineers at WVU Coliseum on March 2, 2021 in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
MORGANTOWN, WV - MARCH 02: Head coach Scott Drew of the Baylor Bears talks to his players during a time out of during a college basketball game against the West Virginia Mountaineers at WVU Coliseum on March 2, 2021 in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

Could the UNC basketball program knock off No. 1 seed Baylor in the Round of 32? Sure they could, provided they get past the Wisconsin Badgers first.

The Baylor Bears looked like a fairly unstoppable force over the first few months of the season, but that hasn’t quite been the case over the past few weeks.

After returning from a Covid pause on February 23 that kept them off the court for better than two weeks, the Bears looked incredibly vulnerable at home against an Iowa State squad that finished just 2-22 on the season. Baylor did pull out the five-point win after trailing by five at halftime, but it was quite the narrow margin of victory for a team that had looked like world-beaters against Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and even Illinois early-on in the season.

The team suffered its first loss of the season the very next game against an improving Kansas team at Lawrence Fieldhouse. Sure, the Jayhawks are better than they were in the month of January when they lost a handful of games, but the Bears still should have won — or at least looked better than they did in a 71-58 loss in which they got outscored by 10 points in the second half alone.

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Baylor did win three consecutive games over ranked opponents after that, beginning with a narrow overtime victory over West Virginia, a grind-it-out win against Oklahoma State, and a convincing win over the No. 18 Texas Tech Red Raiders. So, let’s not take that away from them.

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Mar 12, 2021; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Cade Cunningham (2) shoots over Baylor Bears guard Adam Flagler (10) during the second half at T-Mobile Center. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports /

But the following week in the Big 12 Tournament, they barely beat a Kansas State squad that finished the season with a 9-20 record, and then lost the following game by nine points to an Oklahoma State Cowboys team that they’d already beaten twice in the past couple of months.

Now, let’s not get carried away. It’s a good Oklahoma State team that Baylor lost to which features maybe the best player in the country in freshman guard Cade Cunningham. But optically, we simply aren’t seeing the same Baylor team out on the court that rolled off 18 consecutive victories to start the season.

Fast forward to Selection when many North Carolina fans shuddered at the thought of playing top-seeded Baylor in a potential Round of 32 matchup. Yes, they look scary on paper, and have one of the nation’s top players in junior guard Jared Butler, but as they’ve shown over the past few weeks, they’re a beatable team.

That notion was echoed by an unnamed Big 12 coach in a recent interview with ESPN’s Jeff Borzello, where the coach states that Baylor, at one point, had a real shot at going undefeated. But since their pause from basketball due to Covid, the coach explains, the Bears have lost some of that competitive edge that carried them to a perfect record in late-February.

"“They were a complete machine,” the anonymous Big 12 coach told Borzello. “Now they’re not guarding. They had a chance to go undefeated. They come back, they stink it up against Iowa State but win late. They thought that got their attention. Then they go to Kansas, thought they were going to show up and Kansas got ’em. The pause hurts you in so many different ways. Your rhythm is completely shot. They didn’t have to look where they were throwing the ball before that. They know where everyone was gonna be. Defensively, they were absolutely smothering people. It was miserable to play against. They lost some competitive edge.”"

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The Tar Heels are an interesting matchup for the Bears, particularly with their size in the front court. The Bears tout just two players over 6-feet-8-inches tall in their regular rotation. One of them, 6-foot-10-inch Flo Thamba, averages just 3.5 points and four rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game. The other, Matthew Mayer, is a 6-foot-9-inch guard that plays the same amount of minutes as Thamba, averaging eight points and 3.5 rebounds per game.

Given that Tar Heels have four key players that are at least 6-feet-10-inches tall, that would be a massive size advantage for the eighth-seeded underdog. North Carolina is the best offensive rebounding team in the nation, which often leads to second-chance points. The aforementioned quartette of big men — Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler — also have the ability to play stingy defense in the post, and affect their opponents’ shots.

Of course, I’d be remiss to not mention that Baylor is a higher-scoring team that hit a higher percentage of their shots — both from inside and outside the arc, as well as at the free throw line — and turns the ball over fewer times a game. And if the Carolina team that lost a deflating home game to Marquette came out and played against the Bears, is would be an absolute blood bath. But if it was the other guys, the ones that had wins over Louisville, Duke (twice), Florida State at home and Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament, then we’d have quite the ball game on our hands.

So, could North Carolina beat Baylor in a big one-versus-eight matchup in the Round of 32 on Sunday? Sure, but’s that provided they get past the pesky Wisconsin Badgers first.

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