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The Different and Ready to Contend Baylor Bears

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The Bears may be different, but that’s just fine.

NCAA Basketball: Oral Roberts at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Although they’ve played only one game, it’s fair to say these aren’t quite the same Bears we’ve seen the last few seasons.

The Bears played without Johnathan Motley against Oral Roberts. Once he returns, the Bears may look wildly different. Motley was the only big man to make the All-Big 12 team. Motley is talented enough that the team will change many facets of its offense when he returns.

But the Bears showed a few things that are unlikely to change. First, the team is shooting a lot more threes. Matt Wilson mentioned this in our live podcast, and he’s right: this team seems like they’ll have the green light. Against Oral Roberts, Baylor attempted 48% of their shots from the perimeter. Michael Nichols has a nice outlook at how rarely Baylor shot threes the last several seasons, but in their first contest, the Bears shot from every position. Jo Acuil even hit two threes, including this one:

Second, the 2016-2017 Bears one-five pick and roll leaves opponents in a tough spot. Above, Oral Roberts elected to double Lecomte and left Acuil open. Below, Acuil’s roll to the hoop drew two men, which left Chuck Mitchell briefly open to fire a three:

Baylor played small. This is one area where we still don’t know what exactly Baylor will do as Motley returns. As the above clips evidence, Acuil offers a lot of strengths, particularly his shooting range and mobility on pick and rolls. When the Bears play with one traditional big man, they have an excellent option with their three guard looks. Jake Lindsey demonstrated this by ending up matched with a big man. When that happened, Lindsey sliced through the defense, Oral Roberts defense was scattered, and Lecomte hit the open three:

Lecomte played a brilliant game. Michael and I were worried about Lecomte’s ability at the rim. At Miami, Lecomte was a poor finisher at the rim. He shot just 41% at the rim and attempted only 18% of his shots there. But against Oral Roberts, Lecomte was not afraid to fire it, and when he did, he converted:

Lecomte did miss some shots. I’m not worried about that. Lecomte still has an excellent form and missed good shots. He’ll make those more often than not. I’m thrilled with how he played at the rim (even if hoop math did not classify a couple of his shots—including the one above— as at the rim), and how he managed to have 10 assists.

I was incredibly pleased with Al Freeman’s play. Freeman was a good player last season, but he would shy away from firing too often. Against Oral Roberts, Freeman embraced the “hand down, man down,” philosophy and let it rip:

One concern for the Bears moving forward will be how they defend in the post. Acuil played an excellent game. But despite his impressive size and length, he often struggled to establish defensive position:

We’ll learn a lot more about Baylor’s defense after they play Oregon. The Bears should have Johnathan Motely back, which may change how they defend. In addition, the Bears will face a vastly more athletic team. The Bears were aggressive on defense against Oral Roberts. They often trapped as soon as the ball crossed half-court. Whether they maintain that pressure against the Ducks talented offense remains to be seen.

Scott Drew has built a perennial winner at Baylor because he finds a way to reinvent when he must. He’s gone from playing fast to slow. From man to zone. And now he’s tasked with building a new offense without the dominating offensive rebounding of Rico Gathers, or the elite scoring of a lottery pick in Taurean Prince. The Bears showed in their first game they’ll play differently. This team will shoot a ton of threes and work with three guard lineups. The schedule is about to get a lot tougher. And the Bears will continue to adjust as it does.