Baylor (15-0) will face the biggest test of the season against West Virginia (13-2) at 6:00 on Tuesday in Morgantown. The game will air on ESPN2.
West Virginia is an excellent team. The Mountaineers are ranked second on KenPom, and they won at Virginia. Winning in Morgantown would be the best win of the college basketball season.
Once again, West Virginia plays a full-court press. And just like they have consistently, West Virginia does an excellent job turning their opponents over. They have the best defensive turnover rate on KenPom, which has led to the eighth best defense. This Mountaineer squad has done a much better job in the half-court too. In 2015, West Virginia ranked 303rd in effective field goal defense. If a team broke the press, they were likely to score. This season, West Virginia ranks 59th in effective field goal defense.
In West Virginia’s two losses, Temple and Texas Tech hit 3-point shots. Temple went 10 of 19, while Texas Tech went 7 of 13. If you can break the press, you can get this shot:
Baylor crushed West Virginia three times in 2015. In 2016, West Virginia easily dispatched the Bears twice. Baylor used the dual point guard lineup with Kenny Chery and Lester Medford in 2015, and they were able to make passes across the court like this:
Baylor really needs to return to form from the 3-point line. The Bears are just 6 of their last 24. They are down to 136th in 3-point percentage on KenPom. Al Freeman has struggled lately. But Al Freeman will have some opportunities this game, and if he plays like he did against VCU, the Bears will have a shot. Freeman had just one turnover against the Rams, and even though the Bears finished with 16 turnovers in that game, Freeman’s play helped the Bears overcome their turnover issues:
West Virginia does an excellent job offensive rebounding. That is a big concern for Baylor, as Baylor’s defensive rebounding is 219th on KenPom. The Bears have built a top five KenPom defense by having the number six KenPom effective field goal defense, but if West Virginia can get the second chance opportunities Oklahoma State had, the Bears will have an incredibly difficult road to victory.
The Mountaineer’s gives up a lot of offensive rebounds though. Baylor ranks 23rd in offensive rebounding rate on KenPom, so the Bears will likely look to crash the boards against West Virginia.
Another important battle will be how aggressive West Virginia can play without fouling. The Mountaineers play an aggressive defense, which is why they are ranked 272nd in foul rate. But West Virginia lives with fouling so often because they do a great job preventing teams from getting comfortable and moving well. Baylor may screen more off the ball, which is something they did well against Michigan State:
Winning in Morgantown this season seems nearly impossible. West Virginia plays an aggressive defense, which seems like the best way to defend Baylor. Add in West Virginia’s strength on the offensive glass, and they seem like an incredibly tough match-up for Baylor.
If the Bears can pull off a victory, they will show they’re much better at dealing with full-court pressure than many assume. Baylor struggled at times against VCU and Louisville’s full-court looks. But the Bears have not faced a team exactly like West Virginia. Baylor may be able to escape the full-court press, and the size of Johnathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil may prove too much for the Mountaineers.
Baylor may also use some different lineup combinations in this game. The Bears have rarely slid Ish Wainright to power forward because Lual-Acuil and Terry Maston have been so good that Baylor rarely wants to go small. But if West Virginia forces turnovers or builds a solid lead, the Bears may provide their first extended look at a small ball lineup.
My fear is that West Virginia’s pressure proves a little too much for Baylor, especially with a more favorable whistle in Morgantown. If Baylor wins this game, it would be the best regular season win in program history because of how tough it is to win on the road against such a quality opponent. I have oscillated between picking Baylor and West Virginia in this contest. They’re going to lose eventually, and it makes a lot of sense this will be the game. But there’s something about this team. I think Baylor gets hot from the perimeter as Al Freeman returns to form, and the Bears knock off West Virginia 72-68.