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Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. Raises Baylor’s Ceiling

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The big man has shocked the world and made people take notice of the Bears.

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears have embraced lineups I’ve referred to as the Scruff’s Squad or the Cricket’s Crew. What I mean is that all five starters: Manu Lecomte, Al Freeman, Ish Wainright, Johnathan Motley, and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. are over the age of 21 and could get into Scruff’s or Cricket’s without having to get an “x” on their hands.

The Bears have done this—as opposed to going small like they did in their opener without Motley—because Lual-Acuil’s shot-blocking, pick and roll offense, and work at the rim has made this Bears team much better than many thought they’d be.

Beyond that, he should earn everyone’s respect for two reasons. First, he’s given the Bears another guy who has come out of nowhere with the hyphenated name. Taurean Waller-Prince pulled this out too. Never sleep on the man willing to tell you his name isn’t what you thought. Second, he has elected to forego a headband. Motley and Terry Maston are both donning headbands. An entire frontcourt cannot wear a headband. To forego the joys of blocking a team seven times while enjoying a headband must be tough. All my respect to Lual-Acuil for discarding one for the needs of the team.

Lual-Acuil’s shot-blocking gives the Bears better defensive potential than they’ve had the last several seasons. Lual-Acuil had seven blocks against Oregon. His strength is how well he moves, which allows him to provide help:

One of Baylor’s challenges playing the 1-3-1 with both Motley and Lual-Acuil out there is that it forces one of them to play along the wing. Lual-Acuil anchors the zone, which leaves Motley having to rotate quickly to limit three point opportunities.

The Ducks shot just 3 of 21 from three. Like all three point shooting, a lot of that was explained by the Ducks having a poor shooting day. But the Bears are able to do two things with Lual-Acuil anchoring the zone. Baylor was able to play more aggressively along the wings and up top contesting shots because they know they had a quick 7 footer ready to offer help.

In addition, the Bears were able to trap alongside the wing far more often because Lual-Acuil can offer that late help. There are two big advantages that gives the Bears. First, the trapping scheme leads to more turnovers because a trapped player is more likely to make a mistake. Second, the trapped player often has to kick the ball out and reset the offense. Once that happens, the Bears feel a lot better about a team being unable to bust their zone late in the clock.

The Bears are not perfect in all these sets. Some of that is a reflection of this being early in the season. Some of this is that the Bears—despite being ranked as a better defensive than offensive team so far—will be a better offensive team than defensive team. They’re going to get beat on defense sometimes. But sometimes Acuil and Chuck Mitchell remind people this team is way better than the A.P. thought (and capable of creating plays so long you have to switch video to GIF services to make the clip):

Lual-Acuil will keep getting time because his offensive skillset is better than many, including myself, believed. He’s quick, which allows him to slip this pick and roll and throw it down:

Lual-Acuil did not venture as far outside today as he did against Oral Roberts. With Motley adding range that may be by design. But at some point, his hook shots will start falling as well. In the interim, he’s shooting 100% at the rim, according to hoop-math.com, because he’s finishing at the rim like this:

After the game, Lual-Acuil noted, “My shots weren’t falling, so I just tried to figure out a different way of helping the team.” With Lual-Acuil continuing to do that, the Bears won’t be unranked for long.