Improved Manek’s memories of Baylor are painful, and not just because of losses

By R.L. Bynum

FORT WORTH, Texas — Baylor coach Scott Drew is familiar with Brady Manek from the Bears’ battles with Oklahoma the previous four seasons.

A lot has changed since his Big 12 days, though.

Manek has gone from the clean-shaven Larry Bird look as a Sooner to a full beard and long, flowing hair. But there are plenty of much-more important differences this year at Carolina (25–9).

“He can grow that beard to try to hide, but we know who he is,” Drew said. “He’s a great player. He can really shoot it. And I’ve always respected his game and what he brings to the table.”

That was on full display Thursday night when Manek scored 28 points, his most as a Tar Heel, and five 3-pointers while dishing out three assists in the No. 8-seed Tar Heels’ 95–63 rout of No 9-seed Marquette at Dickies Arena.

That set up a 12:10 p.m. Saturday (CBS) second-round matchup with the No. 1-seed and fourth-ranked reigning champion Bears (27–6), who dismantled Norfolk State 85–49. It’s the first time UNC and Baylor have met.

Junior Baylor guard Adam Flagler, who averages 13.3 points per game, doesn’t see the same player.

“He’s definitely being a lot more aggressive,” he said. “We’ve all seen from playing against him, as well as him being in the Big 12, we know what he’s capable of. We’re definitely going to focus on making him feel uncomfortable out there. It’s going to be exciting and we can’t wait.”

Manek recognizes that his game has changed as well.

He’s averaging 14.8 points per game with a team-high 81 3-pointers on 39.1% shooting from outside the arc. That tops his best Oklahoma season two years ago as a junior, when he averaged 14.4 points and shot 38% from 3-point range with 71 3-pointers.

Why has Manek improved so much this season?

“I would say the confidence level of playing, making shots, having these guys trust me and throw me the ball. It’s been fun,” Manek said. “I’ve been able to put the ball on the floor more. A little bit more, I wouldn’t say freedom, but just a little bit more confidence of being able to put the ball on the floor.”

While Baylor remembers a lot about Manek, his last memory of playing the Bears wasn’t pleasant.

In Oklahoma’s only game against the Bears last season, the fact that the Sooners lost 76–71 on Jan. 6, 2021, to then-No. 2 Baylor wasn’t nearly the most painful part. Manek collided with a Bears player, hit his head on the court and was bleeding from his mouth. He returned to the game but didn’t feel quite right.

You can see a video of the play here.

“That one hurt a lot. That wasn’t fun,” said Manek, who missed games for the first time in his college career.

He suffered a bruised lung and was diagnosed with pneumomediastinum (air leaking from the lungs into his chest cavity), leaving him in significant neck, chest and lower back pain. It added to the frustrations from his senior season at Oklahoma, which included a positive COVID-19 test.

Manek is 1–6 against Baylor and scored 16 points in his lone victory against them, 98–96, during his sophomore season. He knows to expect physical, tough defense from the Bears.

“Yeah, they’re always defensively sound. They’re a really good basketball team. And he does a good job, whether it’s defense or offense, getting his guys to play together,” Manek said of Drew. “They’re going to be a tough opponent for us.”

Manek will face a very different Baylor team than he saw last season. The Bears have only three available players who played in every NCAA tournament game during last season’s title run: Flagler, Matthew Mayer and Flo Thamba, the latter their only returning starter.

Six of Baylor’s rotation players dealt with injuries this season, and Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Langston Love are out for the year. Leading scorer LJ Cryer (13.5 points per game) has missed 11 of the last 12 games and was declared out for the opening weekend.

Mayer led Baylor on Thursday with 22 points and four 3-pointers and averages 9.8 points per game.

This is the first time UNC has faced a reigning national champion in the NCAA tournament since losing to Arkansas in a national semifinal in Seattle in 1995.

Whoever shows up for the Bears will be tough to beat.

East Regional

First round

Thursday’s games
At Dickies Arena
Fort Worth, Texas

Baylor 85, Norfolk State 49
North Carolina 95, Marquette 63
At Moda Center
Portland, Ore.

Saint Mary’s 82, Indiana 53
UCLA 57, Akron 53
At Gainbridge Fieldhouse
Indianapolis

St. Peter’s 85, Kentucky 79, OT
Murray St. 92, San Francisco 87, OT
Friday’s games
At Fiserv Forum
Milwaukee

Purdue 78, Yale 56
Texas 81, Virginia Tech 73

Second round

Saturday’s games
At Dickies Arena
Fort Worth, Texas

Baylor (27–6) vs. North Carolina (25–9), 12:10 p.m., CBS
At Moda Center
Portland, Ore.

UCLA (26–7) vs. Saint Mary’s (26–7), 7:10, TBS
At Gainbridge Fieldhouse
Indianapolis

St. Peter’s (20–11) vs. Murray St. (31–2), 7:45, CBS
Sunday’s game
At Fiserv Forum
Milwaukee

Purdue (28–7) vs. Texas (22–11), 7:40 p.m.

Regional semifinals

At Wells Fargo Center
Philadelphia
Friday, March 25

Baylor-North Carolina winner vs. UCLA-Saint Mary’s winner, TBA
St. Peter’s-Murray St. winner vs. Purdue-Texas winner, TBA

Regional championship

Sunday, March 27
At Wells Fargo Center
Philadelphia

Semifinal winners, TBA

DateScore, record/
time, day, TV
LocationOpponent
(current rank)
November (4–2)
583–55 exhibition winHomeElizabeth City State
983–67 win, 1–0HomeLoyola Maryland
1294–87 win, 2–0HomeBrown
1694–83 win, 3–0RoadCollege of Charleston
2093–84 loss, 3–1Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 10 Purdue
2189–72 loss, 3–2Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 5 Tennessee
2372–53 win, 4–2HomeUNC Asheville
December (5–1, 1–0 ACC)
172–51 win, 5–2HomeX — Michigan
579–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACCRoadGeorgia Tech
1180–63 win, 7–2 ACCHomeElon
1474–61 win, 8–2 ACCHomeFurman
1898–69 loss, 8–3 ACCLas VegasZ — No. 7 Kentucky
2170–50 win, 9–3 ACCHomeAppalachian State
January (6–3, 6–3 ACC)
291–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACCRoadBoston College
578–73 loss, 10–4, 2-1 ACCRoadNotre Dame
874–58 win, 11–4, 3–1 ACCHomeVirginia
1588–65 win, 12–4, 4–1 ACCHomeGeorgia Tech
1885–57 loss, 12–5, 4–2 ACCRoadMiami
2298–76 loss, 12–6, 4–3 ACCRoadWake Forest
2478–68 win, 13–6, 5–3 ACCHomeVirginia Tech
2658–47 win, 14–6, 6–3 ACCHomeBoston College
29100–80 win, 15–6, 7–3 ACCHomeN.C. State
February (7–2, 7–2 ACC)
190–82 OT win, 16–6, 8–3 ACCRoadLouisville
587–67 loss, 16–7, 8–4 ACCHomeNo. 9 Duke
879–77 win, 17–7, 9–4 ACCRoadClemson
1294–74 win, 18–7, 10–4 ACCHomeFlorida State
1676–67 loss, 18–8, 10–5 ACCHomePittsburgh
1965–57 win, 19–8, 11–5 ACCRoadVirginia Tech
2170–63 win, 20–8, 12–5 ACCHomeLouisville
2684–74 win, 21–8, 13–5 ACCRoadN.C. State
2888–79 OT win, 22–8, 14–5 ACCHomeSyracuse
March (3–1)
594–81 win, 23–8, 15–5 ACCRoadNo. 9 Duke
— ACC Tournament —
1063–43 win, 24–8BrooklynVirginia
1172–59 loss, 24–9BrooklynVirginia Tech
— NCAA tournament —
1795–63 win, 25–9Fort Worth, TexasMarquette
1912:10 Saturday, CBSFort Worth, TexasBaylor
X — ACC/Big Ten Challenge; Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic

Photo via @UNC_Basketball

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