The Baylor Bears lost to the Creighton Bluejays, 85-76, in the second round of the 2023 NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Denver, Colo. Here are three thoughts on the game.
Baylor (23-11) lost in the Round of 32 for the second straight season since winning the 2021 national championship.
Creighton (23-12) moves on to the Sweet 16 and will play Princeton next week.
How Baylor Lost
Start with the defense, which was sub-par all evening. The Bears directed a lot of attention at Creighton’s 7-foot-1 center Ryan Kalkbrenner, but it might have been to Baylor’s detriment by the middle of the second half.
The Bears didn’t switch well. They gave up too many back-side cuts. Their rotations were off. And, when Kalkbrenner had the ball he didn’t force things. He passed it out.
That’s when RJ Nembhard and the rest of the Creighton guards did their best Baylor impressions. The Bluejays shot nearly 50 percent from the field and from the 3-point line. Because Baylor’s rotations were off, some of those jumpers were wide open. Creighton knocked down those shots.
When you live and you die by the 3-pointer, you have to live with it when it doesn’t work. And for Baylor it didn’t work. The Bears were awful from distance on Sunday, making just five 3-pointers and shooting less than 25 percent from there. LJ Cryer was the only Bear that could consistently hit. He made four of them and finished with a game-high 30 points.
Adam Flagler scored 15 points and forward Jalen Bridges added 12 points. Keyonte George, the talented freshmen who hasn’t been the same since his injury in late February, had just seven points.
How Creighton Won
The aforementioned Nembhard had a lot to do with it. He would have been a perfect fit for Baylor’s offense on this night. He scored 30 points, connected on four 3-pointers and ran a capable point all evening.
But he wasn’t the only one. With Baylor’s attention directed at Kalkbrenner in the first half, that allowed Trey Alexander (17 points) and Baylor Schierman (eight points) to get going. Same went for forward Arthur Kaluma (11 points). Heck, even TCU transfer Francisco Farabello got in on the action, connecting on three 3-pointers. By game’s end the Bluejays had 11 made 3-pointers, turning the tables on the Bears.
Kalkbrenner did finish with 10 points and Baylor, along with foul trouble, succeeded in making him a relative non-factor. But the Bears’ inability to slow anyone else down led to their defeat.
Creighton also made a good adjustment after committing 10 turnovers by the end of the first half. The Bluejays finished with 13 for the game.
Not to mention that the Bluejays were a perfect 22-for-22 from the free-throw line. They made Baylor pay dearly for every foul it committed.
Baylor in Transition
Two tournament have passed since Baylor won its national championship. Some of the last players that were part of that team will be leaving the program after this season, including forward Flo Thamba and Flagler.
It’s fair to say that coach Scott Drew’s job is perfectly safe. It’s also fair to say that he has a significant job ahead of him next season. He’s turned Baylor into one of the best programs in the country and turnover is inevitable, whether by eligilbity or by early departures.
Along with Flagler and Thamba, the Bears will likely lose George to the NBA Draft, a projected first-round pick. Cryer might take a pass at it as well, though he would be wise to do it while keeping his eligibility open. Langston Love should return, and the Bears missed him down the stretch. He should settle into a starting role next season.
The Bears have another incredible recruiting class coming in, and because of its success Baylor is a good transfer destination. Drew has shown good wisdom in using the portal in the past, and he could use it again.
But what the Bears need right now is some offensive length inside. Aside from Bridges, the Bears are not that skilled inside and they are in need of player that can defend the paint on defense and draw attention on offense. BYU transfer Caleb Lohner was unable to fill that role this season.
If Drew is looking for help in the portal, that’s what he should be looking for.
When you have success you have to deal with turnover. It’s something Drew, who values continuity and touts the program’s lack of losing players to the portal, will have to get used to.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard