Friday night, the Bears have the opportunity to match their tournament run from two years ago and go to another Elite Eight match up. To get to that Sunday game in Atlanta though, the Bears will have to go through a very talented Xavier squad. A lot of Baylor fans are seeing this game as a possible replay of the game two years ago against St Mary's where we rolled to a big win. Sorry to break the news Bear fans, but this game probably won't be like that. This is the best team we have seen by far in this tournament.
Xavier climbed as high as #8 in the nation before the big story of their season to this point. On December 10th, Xavier was involved in a brawl with cross town (and fellow Sweet 16 participant) Cincinnati. After that contest, the Musketeers lost 5 of 6 games and fell out of the top 25 permanently.
After their great 8-0 start, they finished the regular season just 13-12. This was a team that came into the season as a sleeper Final Four pick, but came into the NCAA tournament as a 10 seed, who was probably near the bottom of the at-large list. During that 8-0 start, they secured wins against Vanderbilt, Purdue, Butler and Cincinnati. The Xavier team at the beginning of the year is more like a #3 seed than a #10 seed.
Xavier is led by All-American guard Terrell Holloway, or Tu as he is more commonly known. He is a dynamic point guard who is very adept at getting his shot off. While watching the game against Lehigh, it was apparent he was their alpha-dog. Anytime the offense broke down and they had a limited amount of shot clock time left, the play was get Tu the ball and get out of the way. Time and time again, he drilled a difficult shot. He has good range,but is not a great 3-point shooter.
Holloway is very good at getting into the paint. He is a strong finisher and is not afraid of the moment. The Musketeers use a lot of on the ball screens to get him and fellow guard Mark Lyons the ball with a match up advantage. Their offense actually looks quite a bit like Baylor's. They do minimal low post plays and their focus is on-ball screening action. They did not seem to do as many back screens or baseline screens.
Xavier is a pretty average team statistically on offense this year. They are just 109th in scoring offense, 128th in points per possession, 92nd in Field Goal Shooting %, and 113th in Three-point shooting%. In fact, the only thing they do really well offensively is get to the free throw line, though they are below average when they get there.
Defensively though, the Musketeers play a rough man defense that is great at challenging shots. There will be very few open uncontested jumpers in this game. Their defenders have been taught very well how to avoid screens and work through them. They did an excellent job on CJ McCollum in the Lehigh game, chasing him around screen and challenging shots.
They play a very active and helping defense, which does leave 3-point shooters open. However, their defenders are so good at getting back to the shooters to contest the shot. They allow a ton of shots, but a very poor percentage. Dribble penetration is key against their defense. It will also be interesting to see if the switch as much against us as the did against Lehigh. I doubt they will, but if they do, we will have some interesting mismatches.
Keys to the Game:
1. Convert those 3-pointers
The Bears are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, shooting almost 39% on the year (23rd in the country). They will get some open looks against this very active defense. With dribble penetration, they sink down hard on the paint and make you kick it out. Baylor has to make them pay for doing that. On average, Baylor has made over 6.4 per game, while Xavier has allowed 6.25.
Baylor shot a ridiculous 19-40 (47.5%) over their two games in Albuquerque, and I think it would be asking a bit too much to shoot that well in Atlanta. Funny enough, the Bears attempted 20 three-point field goals in each game and that also happens to be the amount of attempts Xavier has allowed in an average game. If the Bears can stay around 40% and make 8 or more 3-pointers, they will stretch the Musketeer defense.
2. Get Perry going Early
We haven't needed Perry Jones III too much in the first two rounds but that is going to change in Atlanta, sooner than later. Perry has not played well offensively so far in the NCAA tournament, shooting just 1-6 in the first game and 3-8 in the second game. 14 total shots are not going to get it done. To put that into perspective, AJ Walton has 13 shots attempts. Heck Pierre Jackson had 17 just in the Colorado game.
We don't need 30 points from Perry, but we need to get him the ball in places he can be effective. One of my biggest complaints about our offense is that we sometimes struggle to get our bigs the ball in areas of the court they like. I would like to see Perry at the wing or the top of the key (where we get Acy the ball) and let him break down his man.
This season you have been able to tell a "good" Perry offensive game pretty early. If he makes his first couple shots, he will get it going. So, come on Perry, let's do this and do it right. Double digit field goal attempts and lets get 16 points at least.
3. Win the glass
With Baylor's size advantage over every other team in the country, you can always look at rebounds as an area the Bears should win. They start a very big front line, however Baylor has started going to more of a 3-guard look in recent games, limiting that size advantage.
Xavier is a very well coached defensive rebounding team. They have a space eater that is one of the best players at blocking out I have seen all year in Kenny Frease. He is their leading rebounder and at a legit 7-0, 275lbs, is a big boy.
While they are very good on the defensive glass, they are bad at offensive rebounding. I haven't seen enough of them play this year to tell you why, but there are several factors in that. Do they get back and defend and send just 1 guy at the glass, or are they just bad at it? I don't know, but we will find out, especially if we play zone, which I think we will.
Baylor needs to continue their excellent rebounding efforts, and win the battle on the glass +7.
4. Keep Holloway under wraps
Tu Holloway is as good as any player we have seen this year. He is a dangerous scorer and play maker. He can take over and win a game himself. Any other cliches you want to hear about him? He is good. Holloway is their leading scorer with 17.4 points per game, their leading assist man with 4.9 per game, and leads them in steals as well with 1.5 per game. He scored 25 and 21 points in the two NCAA games so far. The Bears cannot let him win this game by himself, which he is more than capable of. Hold him under 28 points, and I will feel good about our chances.
5. Zone it up Bears!
Xavier screams zone to me. They like to pick and roll and attack the basket. They do not have a ton of long-range shooters, and one of them is usually the guy penetrating and passing out. They are also not a great offensive rebounding team. So, ZONE! This will also allow Baylor to get more minutes for their forwards. Quincy Acy has struggled with fouls a little bit recently. The zone does a great job of protecting your players from foul trouble and lets you play your starters longer minutes.
The big question is, which zone will we see? Will it be the passive one we saw in big games against Missouri or Iowa State late in the year, or will it be the attacking one was saw destroy the Buffaloes last weekend?
Bears win, what else did you expect. I think Xavier matches up pretty well with the Bears, and they will get a nice win to get to their 2nd elite 8 in three years. Baylor 75-Xavier 69.