Here is everything you need to know about the Baylor Bears and the Norfolk State Spartans in our Baylor vs. Norfolk State NCAA Tournament men’s basketball preview.
East Region – First Round
No. 1 Baylor (26-6) vs. No. 16 Norfolk State (24-6), 1 p.m. CT, Thursday, TBS, Dickies Arena, Fort Worth, Texas
How They Got Here:
Baylor was selected as an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Norfolk State won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament.
Winner gets: A second-round game against the winner of the Marquette-North Carolina game.
Projected starting lineups
Baylor: G James Akinjo, G/F Kendall Brown, G Adam Flagler, F Flo Thamba, F Matthew Mayer.
Norfolk State: G Jalen Hawkins, G Joe Bryant Jr., G/F Tyrese Jenkins, F Dana Tate Jr., F Kris Bankston.
Player to watch
G James Akinjo: The Arizona transfer was named Third-Team All-American on Tuesday, validating his decision to slide over to the Bears. Akinjo helped lead the Bears to a second straight Big 12 regular-season title. He was named First-Team All-Big 12 by the coaches. He is averaging 13.4 points per game and has a team-leading 170 assists. On the nights when guard Adam Flagler isn’t shooting well, Akinjo is the guard the Bears turn to for offense, and he usually delivers.
G Joe Bryant Jr.: Bryant was the MEAC Player of the Year and All-MEAC First Team selection after averaging 16.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists in leading the Spartans to a 12-2 MEAC record and a conference tournament title. He made a big jump from his junior season, although he was sharp last season, too — 11.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game as he shot nearly 40 percent from the 3-point line and was named the most outstanding player of the MEAC Tournament. Everything on this team flows through the senior’s fingertips.
Baylor: The Bears are the defending national champions and hoping to extend what is a six-game NCAA Tournament winning streak. This is the seventh time Baylor is appearing in the NCAA Tournament in the last eight tournaments. All-time, the Bears are 20-13 in 13 NCAA Tournament appearances, and most of that success has come under head coach Scott Drew. The Bears have gone 17-8 in the tournament under Drew. The Bears got some good news earlier in the week when freshman forward Kendall Brown was cleared to play. Now, if the Bears could just get sophomore guard L.J. Cryer on the floor, they would be as full strength as could possibly be. As it is, the Bears are dangerous, even if they are short-handed.
Norfolk State: The Spartans are making their second straight NCAA Division I tournament appearance and third in its history on Thursday. So reaching the NCAA Tournament again isn’t a big surprise, given last year’s performance. The Spartans nearly went undefeated in MEAC action, winning its way through January and early February before a loss to Morgan State. Along with Bryant, the Spartans have another double-digit scorer in guard Jalen Hawkins and MEAC All-Defensive team selection and forward Kris Bankston. The Spartans won their first-round game in 2012 as a No. 15 seed, beating Missouri, in a contest considered one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history.
Both the Baylor men’s and women’s basketball teams have been Top 2 seeds in the last three NCAA Tournaments. Norfolk State is 1-5 all-time against the Big 12.
Baylor 87, Norfolk State 69. These two teams have faced each other twice and the Bears won by at least 28 points. This game will be a little closer, given that these Spartans have two quality scorers. But, no upset.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.