Baylor MBB: The Plus/Minus

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Plus/Minus, your semi-periodical assessment of Baylor men's basketball. The Plus/Minus is where we ask what works (plus) and what doesn't (minus). We will look at individual games, as well as season trends to help us figure out the answers to those questions. Each post we will consider three pluses, three minuses, and one plus/minus when it could go either way.

Baylor had a pretty successful week in basketball leading up to Thanksgiving. The Bears handed out their first beat down of the season to tournament host Chaminade, battled back in the second half against a tough Dayton team that had put away then #11 Gonzaga the night before, and hung tough against #8 Syracuse, who will likely climb in the upcoming polls with losses by both #2 Kansas and #6 Duke. Sure, it would have been nice to have remained undefeated, but the Bears bolstered their non-conference resume a bit. The trip to Maui, where Baylor has struggled mightily in the past, came out a net-gain this year. Hopefully Brady Heslip took the opportunity to work on his tan, too. He looks like the ghost of Ace Ventura, Pet Detective.

Let's get to the plus/minus.


Sharp Shooting

Coming into Maui, Baylor was 26 of 63 (.413) from three-point range. That's pretty dang good. That rate would rank 30th in the country, tied with perennial power houses Cal State Bakersfield and Dartmouth. In what has been dubbed a "shooter's gym," Baylor shot 24 of 53 ( .453) from beyond the arc. That percentage would rank 10th nationally. As you might expect, those two percentages average to a nice .431, ranking 21st nationally. Baylor is only .001 behind Duke, and is .004 ahead of Dayton, who gave a vintage John Wayne shooting performance against Baylor with 11 of 20 (.550) from three. In the opening round game against Chaminade, while Christophe Veridel was gunning for the tourney scoring record with 10 of 16 from three, Heslip, Royce O'Neale, and Gary Franklin went 11 of 21 to keep Baylor in the game until Varidel got worn down in the second half, where the game was essentially over with about 4:30 left to play, per Baylor struggled to get shots up against Dayton, but almost got themselves back into the game against Syracuse with the long ball. We already knew Heslip and Franklin could stroke it, but Chery and O'Neale have pleasantly surprised with their confidence shooting from deep. O'Neale made consecutive threes early in the first half against Syracuse to stop the bleeding and keep Baylor close, and Chery made a three late in that game to bring the score within six. Baylor has a lot of weapons on the perimeter this season, and it will probably need all of them unless Isaiah Austin, Ish Wainwright, and Taurean Prince can settle comfortably into their roles and start producing more consistently.

This is by far the best perimeter shooting Scott Drew has had at Baylor. If he can find ways to consistently take advantage of it, Twitter should stay an exciting place for Baylor basketball fans.

(Unexpected fact: West Virginia is tied with UConn for 13th in three-point FG% at .447 while also attempting 150 three point FGAs. Bob Huggins has the Mountaineers gunning this season. Something to watch out for come conference play.)

Second Half Defense

Early on in the Chaminade game, Twitter was a little frustrated with Baylor's defense.

Looks like their luggage just got lost at the airport for a little bit. We've all been there.

Baylor outscored each of their last three opponents in the second half, including in the loss to Syracuse. Combined, the Bears outscored Chaminade, Dayton, and Syracuse 119-99 in the second half. Baylor also held each of those three opponents to equal or lesser point totals in the second half than in the first, Dayton being the only one to equal their second half scoring to their first. In Maui, Baylor opponents scored nearly 20 combined points fewer in the second half than in the first (118-99). Scott Drew has been known to have second half teams, so this really should be too surprising.

What's been the difference in the second half of games? Some of it has to do with scheme. Scott Drew tried to implement the 2-3 zone early in those games, and it had some problems. We'll get to those problems later. In the second half Baylor largely played man-to-man defense. Baylor has excellent athleticism at almost every position, and where athleticism lacks intelligence helps to compensate (see Heslip, Brady). The Bears are also playing with more effort in the second half. It's that simple. Hands are active in passing lanes, players are diving for loose balls, and interior defenders are rotating quickly to deter penetration and drives to the rim. Good help defense gets in position ahead of the offense, and it takes awareness and effort to get there. Baylor's defense has been stout all season. It's tough to score inside on this long, athletic team. If it can manage to stretch that effort over 35 or 40 minutes a game instead of 15-20, Baylor will be one of the best defensive teams in the Big 12.

Comebacks are exciting, and Baylor's second half defensive intensity paired with its many weapons from deep are built for exciting comebacks. Hopefully the Bears can put it together and use those same tools to create leads rather than overcoming them.

A Blowout and a Comeback

I know it was against Chaminade, but it was just nice to know that Baylor can put away an inferior team. The Silverswords came out fighting in the first half, but the Bears matched them shot for shot and took a small lead into halftime. Baylor continued to have hot hands in the second and did a much better job limiting the three ball from Chaminade. The margin of victory was large, and that's comforting. Baylor had yet to really pull away from a team with any sort of talent this season, so it's nice to know that it's possible for blowouts to happen against teams that tote a bit more firepower than Hardin Simmons.

The comeback against Dayton (and against Syracuse to a certain extent) was comforting in its own right, if in the opposite sort of way. Dayton punched Baylor in the mouth, tearing apart Baylor's man and zone defenses with the best team passing Baylor will likely face the entire season. The ball flew from side to side, and the Flyers found their teammates cutting baseline and slashing the lane. I was hardly even upset by Baylor's defensive effort. Dayton was just executing at such a high level for most of that game. Baylor toughed it out, maintained their defensive intensity, and got themselves back in a very losable game. Unlike the games against Chaminade and Syracuse, Baylor gained ground on Dayton without much use for the three point line. Smart passing and good inside positioning gave Baylor high percentage looks in the paint that they were able to knock down. The Bears were subtly efficient in the second half, which is what made the comeback more of a grind than a roar. Roaring comebacks come from three point shooting. Grinding comebacks come from excellent defense and high efficiency shooting inside the arc.


The 2-3 Zone

In the 2010 NCAA Tournament, the 2-3 zone defense helped Baylor make a run to the Elite Eight. That same zone, with some aggressive man defense peppered in to good effect, helped Baylor make its second Elite Eight in three seasons. Last season Scott Drew's team didn't have the length or athleticism on the perimeter to effectively disrupt passing lanes while operating in the 2-3 zone, so Scott Drew relied much more heavily on man-to-man defense. This season, Drew has the pieces to once again create a feisty, havoc-reeking zone defense that opposing offenses can't find their way around with any sort of consistency.

So why was Baylor's 2-3 zone so bad in Maui? The first factor that should be accounted for is the teams that blew up Baylor's zone. Both Chaminade and Dayton are excellent passing and three-point shooting teams, the kryptonite of any zone defense. Syracuse, while not quite as efficient in those two categories as the other two teams Baylor faced, has had the best zone defense in the country for as long as I have paid attention to basketball. They better than anyone should know the ways to break down a zone defense and get good looks against a defense designed to force up low percentage shots.

The second factor in Baylor's defensive struggles while in a zone was the inexperience of the team in executing the scheme. Baylor did not use much zone last season, so this is the first foray for many of these players in anything other than man-to-man. The place where Baylor's inexperience was particularly exploited was in the corners. Dayton would move the ball to one side of the floor, then rapidly whip it back the other way, often using a pin-down screen on the Baylor defender responsible for rotating down to the corner. The inability of that defender to anticipate and avoid the screen compromised the integrity of the defense, and the player in the corner could either shoot a wide open three or drive into the middle of the floor and suck in the rest of the defense, creating openings for his teammates. Dayton also executed excellent off-ball cuts along the baseline. While one of the outside defenders in the bottom three line of the 2-3 zone was concerned with a possible three point shot, the offensive player in the corner would take advantage of the opening and cut straight to the basket for an open layup or a foul. This sort of situation often came about because of slow rotations by Baylor and a lack of awareness for each defender's responsibilities as the ball moved around the floor.

Personally, I hope Scott Drew sticks with the 2-3 zone for as much of the early season as he can. Baylor has already shown itself to be a strong man-to-man defense. Having a competent zone defense to pair with that will give Baylor the ability to surprise teams with sudden scheme changes. The ability to confound an offense is the foundation of a deep tournament run. Just ask Ohio State, Virginia Commonwealth, Syracuse, and Louisville, who have all made it to the Sweet Sixteen or better in the last three seasons.

Isaiah Austin's Post Game

Austin has not looked great in the post recently. He struggles to get deep position near the rim, dribbles to much once he gets the ball because he has to try and back down so much, and has to fall away from contact, forcing up tough shots. In addition, whenever he is about to go up for a shot of the glass, he scrunches himself down and lowers the ball to about his knees, which resulted in strips and blocked shots several times in Maui. He mostly has those same two post moves I mentioned in my season roster preview. He seems unable to utilize his insane height and length to score over defenders. The post just doesn't seem to be the place for him at the moment.

His offseason surgery and rehab obviously hampered his ability to add strength to his frame. Even if he had added some bulk, though, it's not obvious that Austin at this point really knows how best to utilize his skills to score points in the paint. He is hovering around .500 FG%, not great for a center, though not bad either. Here's how he compares against a player who will likely be his top competition in the Big 12, Kansas Freshman Joel Embiid.

Totals Shooting
Rk Player Class Season Pos School Conf G MP FG FGA 2P 2PA 3P 3PA FT FTA ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS FG% 2P% 3P% FT%
1 Joel Embiid FR 2013-14 C Kansas Big 12 7 123 25 37 25 35 0 2 14 25 16 33 49 8 4 16 10 24 64 .676 .714 .000 .560
2 Isaiah Austin SO 2013-14 C Baylor Big 12 8 199 32 63 32 60 0 3 20 26 12 27 39 7 1 25 17 17 84 .508 .533 .000 .769

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/2/2013.

Embiid's percentage benefits from not being a focal piece for the Jayhawk offense. He has taken far fewer shots than Austin, but has made a much higher percentage. Austin has a big edge in free throw shooting, which you might expect given Austin's reputation for having a decent jump shot and Embiid's newness to basketball -- he's only played for about three years, which you will here a half dozen times every KU broadcast. Having watched a fair bit of both players this season, Embiid will be a huge challenge for Austin to overcome. Unless Austin can find a way to be productive outside of the post, Embiid is a very real threat to steal Austin's 1st team all-conference spot.

Nota Bene: Austin has not been as terrible as Baylor fans might think. He is taking nearly 4 fewer shot attempts per game, dropped his usage rate a bit, and increased his offensive rating from 105.2 to 107.2, which is a projection of a players offensive output per 100 possessions. Believe it or not, Austin has improved his offensive game from last season and become a more efficient player while demanding fewer touches, allowing more opportunities for his teammates on the offensive end. His turnover rate has increased, but that is the only place where his game has declined thus far since last season. Austin has also been phenomenal on the defensive end. Austin has a block rate of 12.7%, which is an estimate of the percentage of opponent 2 point shots that are blocked while the player is on the floor. The second highest Bear in block rate is Cory Jefferson at a comparatively paltry 5.2%. Austin's block rate ranks 14th in the nation among centers who have played at least 100 minutes this season. He has a block to foul ratio of 25/17. Jefferson's is 11/18. "But his rebounding is terrible!" the skeptic might say. The loss of good rebounding position is the cost of being an aggressive shot blocker. on the other hand, Austin is probably overcommitting to blocks and should strive to maintain good positioning for the rebound even while attempting to block shots. Jeff Withey last season at Kansas and The Brow Anthony Davis in his one season at Kentucky both posted higher block rates and maintained much higher rebounding rates. It can be done, and it is not beyond Austin to improve in that area.


Bold proclamation: Baylor would have beaten Syracuse if not for an unacceptable 20 turnovers. Ok, maybe that's not so bold. Check out this stat, though:

I mentioned above that Baylor had sneaky efficient second halves against both Dayton and Syracuse. 72% shooting is outstanding. Turnovers, however, counterbalanced the hot hands. When Baylor did get shots up against Syracuse, they were going in. They just couldn't hold onto the ball often enough.

Baylor currently ranks 308th nationally in turnovers. Yikes. Ish Wainwright and Royce O'Neale have turnover rates of 38.6% and 26.7%, respectively. Those are some pretty ugly numbers. The entire team -- excepting Brady Heslip -- is sloppy with the ball, and that will have to change for Baylor to be competitive in the Big 12. Kansas and Oklahoma State both thrive on turnovers and transition buckets. Just to hang around with those two, Baylor will have to be smart with the ball.


Scott Drew

During the Syracuse game thread here on ODB, there were a few very vocal commenters challenging Scott Drew's coaching ability. They were of the opinion that Baylor was completely out-coached in that game, and that coaching was the difference between winning and losing that game. And that might have really been the case. Jim Boeheim is a hall of fame caliber coach who won a national championship back in 2003 and was in the Final Four just last year. He's a well respected coach who is thought highly of in the college basketball world, even if he can be a bit frumpy at times. Boeheim is a pretty high bar to hold any coach to.

In Scott Drew's defense, I would point out that while the first half of the Syracuse game was pretty rough, the second half was much improved. While in the first half Baylor players seemed to have no idea what to do against Syracuse's zone to get any sort of consistent offense, it was clear early in the second half that the coaches had instilled in the players some confidence and idea of how to attack the zone, which is what permitted Baylor to get back into it. If not for C.J. Fair's crafty offense and a couple of incredible shots, Syracuse might have crumbled. The same thing can be said for the Dayton game. Baylor got knocked around in the first half, and came out in the second confident in the game plan, didn't rush shots or chuck up desperation threes, and played good defense. All those things stem from coaching.

Also, Scott Drew is great at drawing up these:

Baylor's Isaiah Austin with the Dunk on the Inbound (via Big12Conference)

Few coaches have been as successful as Scott Drew recently in terms of recruiting and tournament accomplishments. Sure, the Drew-Coaster might be second only to the Romo-Coaster in its highs and lows, but there are very few coaches Baylor could go after and reasonably consider an upgrade. I've been through the list, believe me. Scott Drew might not be the most impressive coach, but his teams seem to find success. Teams rarely reach two Elite Eights in three years in spite of their coach.


Baylor's A. J. Walton, in case you didn't know, is playing professional basketball overseas. He seems to be having a pretty good time:

Fanposts on ODB are user-submitted and do not <em>necessarily</em> reflect the opinions/views of, SB, or any of the writers/editors here.

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