What begins on the final Friday of 2016 in Norman, the Bears hope will help carry them to their first Big 12 basketball title. Baylor (12-0) takes on Oklahoma (6-5) at 6:00 on December 30th in Norman. In a season where expectations are much higher than they were just two months ago, what happens here will go a long way to determining if Baylor can end Kansas’ conference title run.
Oklahoma may be the second worst team in the Big 12. They have five losses and return just two starters from last season’s Final Four team. And it’s not just that Oklahoma lost three starters. Baylor also lost three starters and is ranked fourth. But Oklahoma lost the best player in the country last season in Buddy Hield. The Sooners also lost skilled guard Isaiah Cousins and advanced stats favorite Ryan Spangler.
But Oklahoma has not fallen to the depths of TCU in the early days of the Big 12, or whatever Texas seems capable of being on their worst nights this season. Oklahoma is ranked 57th on KenPom. Jordan Woodard, the Sooners senior point guard, is one of the best players in the Big 12. Woodard feels like Tim Riggins from “Friday Night Lights.” It’s odd he’s still somehow around while everyone else is gone, and he’s asked to play a different role his senior season. For Riggins, it was halfback, and for Woodard, it’s a return to full-time point guard duties and manning the scoring load for the Sooners.
Oklahoma’s defensive weakness has been defending the perimeter. The Sooners are currently 224th on KenPom in defending the three. As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of three point defense is difficult to measure because guys can make shots even when well defended. But Oklahoma seems to have two big problems. First, they often overload the strong side and leave themselves in terrible spots if the offense can quickly make a pass:
Second, Oklahoma has also struggled with their pick and roll defense leaving shooters open:
And Oklahoma does just about the worst job imaginable on this sequence against Northern Iowa:
Johnathan Motley has passed out of the post and done well distributing in the pick and roll, which may give Baylor some good three point looks against Oklahoma:
Oklahoma’s strength is their three point shooting. They enter the game 20th in three point offense on KenPom. Woodard shoots 43%, and Christian James shots 51%. Baylor is fifth on KenPom’s three point defense, but they’ve had some sequences where teams get hot. Trevon Bluiett of Xavier was pretty bad from deep entering the Baylor game and got it going. Michigan State opened hot against Baylor too. My point is that three point shooting can break your heart, and Oklahoma has the shooters to beat Baylor, Kansas, or West Virginia on their best shooting day, regardless of the defense.
I’d expect Baylor to play a decent bit of man-to-man in this contest. Oklahoma struggles with ball pressure, and 10% of their offensive possessions end via a steal, which ranks 279th on KenPom. Oklahoma often makes weak passes, which led to a number of steals for Wichita State and Northern Iowa:
Baylor excelled playing tough half-court pressure defense against Louisville, and could return to that same attack:
Oklahoma is a talented team. Don’t let the record fool you. They have close losses to solid teams.
Lon Kruger is also a fantastic coach. Kruger never seems to stay in one spot for too long, but for the time he remains, he consistently wins. Oklahoma has pieces that should lead the Sooners back into contention before too long.
Baylor is a decent bit better than Oklahoma though. The Bears are a complete team and have the tools to exploit the Sooners’ weaknesses. At the same time, the Bears are well positioned to counter Oklahoma’s explosive three point attack. I’ll take Baylor 69-62.