2013 NIT Championship: Baylor vs. Arizona State Preview

USA TODAY Sports

Baylor's path in the NIT continues tonight at 7 PM on ESPN2 against the Sun Devils of Arizona State. As the #3 seed in our region, Arizona State could be quite the obstacle to overcome.

vs.
No. 2 Baylor (19-14) vs. No. 3 Arizona State (22-12)
March 22, 2013 | 7:00 p.m. CT
Waco, Texas | Ferrell Center (10,284)

TV: ESPN2 & WatchESPN
Radio: ESPN Central Texas 1660 AM
Watch | Listen | Gametracker Gametracker | Game Notes Notes | TicketsTickets

Tonight, our Bears welcome to the #3-seed Arizona State Sun Devils to the Ferrell Center for the second game of the 2013 NIT Championship. ASU joined Baylor in this round after downing 6-seed Detroit in the first round 83-68. I knew a little bit more about the Sun Devils than I did the 49ers, but not much. I know that Baylor is 3-1 against ASU in the last few years, including a win over James Harden's squad in the NCAA Tournament in 2008.

Conference: Pac12, lost to UCLA in the conference tournament
Record:
22-12 (9-9)
Game Previews: BaylorBears.com, Statsheet
ASU KenPom: Rank -- 72, AdjO -- 74, AdjD -- 79, AdjTempo -- 197, Luck -- 184, SOS -- 106
Baylor KenPom: Rank -- 33, AdjO -- 23, AdjD -- 66, AdjTempo -- 100, Luck -- 344, SOS -- 58
Spread: Baylor -8
RPI: 87 by latest update

4 Factors:

Team Stats:

The starting five for the Sun Devils has been fairly stable throughout this season. Starting at the point is the Sun Devils' best player -- 5-10 guard Jahii Carson. His game is predicated on Pierre-like speed, and in this his freshman season, Carson averaged over 18 points per game along with 5 assists. Turnovers are an issue for him at 3.47 per game, but he has improved in that regard as the season has progressed. His one major weakness is that he is a marginal three-point shooter (31%) at best. Behind him are Evan Gordon at the 2 and Carrick Felix at the 3. Felix is probably the second-best player we'll see tonight and the one I fear most. He's the best rebounder on the team and the single biggest reason ASU ranks in the top-15 nationally in defensive rebounding. We'll probably see Jonathan Gilling play the 4 at a Rico Gathers-esque 6-7 backed by shot-blocking center Jordan Bachynski, who, at 7-2 could give our bigs more of a problem than they are accustomed to down low.

The Sun Devils are an interesting team on the whole in that they shoot (most in the Pac12), and make (second-most), three-point shots in large quantities but don't operate at a high tempo. Gilling and Felix basically tie for the highest percentage of 3s made, but Gilling has taken by far the most on the team, followed by Gordon. Gilling is a player to watch tonight because he will no doubt try to shoot over the smaller (he's 6-7) A.J. Walton and Brady Heslip. Putting Heslip on him at all could be a nightmare for us if he just bombs away.

Inside, Bachynski is a plodding mauler of a center who is vulnerable to double teams that force him to put the ball on the floor but can and will block shots by the boatload on the defensive end. He's not an extremely active rebounder, leaving most of that to Felix and Gillings, but he does affect the game. If Austin and Jefferson play passively like they did in the Big 12 Tournament against Oklahoma State, he could be able to shut them down inside for the most part.

ASU's weaknesses manifest in two primary places: offensive rebounding and turnovers. Though they are quite good on the defensive boards, ASU ranks 269th in offensive rebounds per game. Part of that is their slower pace-- fewer shots taken means fewer rebounds by necessity-- and part is the fact that they shoot so many 3s-- long shots means long rebounds. That particular aspect could be beneficial to us since Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip are so good in transition. If Baylor can get the ball out quickly, we may be able to catch ASU in a poor defensive position or the lumbering Bachynski before he can get set in the paint. The turnovers are mostly due to Carson's inexperience and the fact that he sometimes plays too fast even for his own good, but none of ASU's normal rotation players are especially good at preventing turnovers, something we may be able to exploit.

With a bench basically consisting of only one player, guard Chris Colvin, tonight looks like an opportunity for Baylor to push the tempo higher than we've normally seen to try to tire the Sun Devils out. It's something I've wanted to see for a while given the offensive skillsets we have on our team, particularly Isaiah Austin, Heslip, and Jackson. It also makes sense given ASU's proclivity to shoot 3s to get the ball out as quickly as possible and try to beat them down the floor. A short bench also means that should any of ASU's regulars get into foul trouble-- Carson guarding Pierre, perhaps, or Bachynski with Cory Jefferson inside-- the Sun Devils could be in real trouble.

If the team that destroyed Long Beach State shows up again tonight, we shouldn't have any problems covering the 8-point spread, but I don't expect the Bears to shoot nearly so well. We made 16 of 23 3s in that game for 69.6%, which is actually better than we did from the free throw line (64%), something you don't see very often at all. For Baylor to win, we have to capitalize on Carson's mistakes and rebound well of ASU's misses. Whatever we can do to slow down Gillings on the outside will also help, whether that means giving Deuce Bello a bigger role on defense or playing tighter man-to-man defense with our normal rotation. I don't look forward to that matchup at all.

Of course, if the Heslip that bombs away from downtown with aplomb shows up again, well that wouldn't be a bad thing at all for our chances.

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