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Baylor-Texas Preview and Prediction

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The Bears look to keep up in the Big 12 race

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Texas Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

The Baylor Bears (16-1, 4-1) host the Texas Longhorns (7-10, 1-4) at 6:00 on Tuesday. The game airs on ESPN2.

This is a game the Bears should absolutely win. Texas reminds me a lot of a poor man’s version of the 2011 Bears. That Baylor squad missed the tournament and suffered a number of bad defeats. But that team had its moments. Texas has been an absolute disaster at times. They have home losses to UT-Arlington and Kent State. On the other hand, they beat a quality Oklahoma State team and led for much of the game against West Virginia. That’s what happens when a team has some solid pieces but is missing key parts.

Texas has struggled without a point guard. Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix are both gone. Tevin Mack, the team’s leading scorer, has been suspended indefinitely. With those losses, the team often puts the ball in the hands of Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis. Those two are not great players right now, but they can make plays. Roach finds Jarrett Allen on this play:

Allen has played well his last two games, which is something Texas will need to have a shot on Tuesday. Allen was considered a lottery pick entering the season, but he’s had some rough stretches, which has moved him back on many draft boards. But Allen has been excellent lately. Against West Virginia, Allen had 19 points. Allen also ranks in the top 200 in block percentage on KenPom and has at least two in his last four Big 12 games. The way Allen has met people at the rim means Baylor can’t just rely on easy opportunities in the paint:

The Bears matchup favorably with Texas. Baylor has allowed a few teams to get hot from the perimeter, but the Longhorns are a terrible 3-point shooting team (313th on KenPom). Overall, Baylor’s defense ranks fifth on KenPom. If you want to beat the Bear’s defense, you need to either be a good offensive rebounding team or a decent 3-point team. Texas struggles to offensive rebound, as they come in at 209th on KenPom. As a result, the Longhorns are not in a great position to take advantage of the Bear’s few defensive weaknesses.

On offense, Baylor has an advantage inside. The Bears need to avoid becoming overly reliant on the post, something they seemed to do too much following the Oklahoma game. But it’s understandable why Baylor wants to get the ball to Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil so often. Motley is one of the best players in the country, and the Longhorns have also struggled to stop elite offensive big men. Vladimir Brodziansky, TCU’s 6’11 junior, dropped 19 on Texas, and Kansas state forwards Dean Wade and D.J. Johnson combined for 27. Motley took Texas big man Shaq Cleare to school last season and has an opportunity to replicate that performance:

There is always the potential for this game to get a little weird too. Shaka Smart coaches Texas and his havoc defense at VCU worked incredibly well. Smart has not had the personnel to run havoc full-time at Texas, but as the Longhorns begin to build another strong recruiting class, it may not be long until the Longhorns start playing pressure defense a ton. The Bears have struggled with pressure, most recently evidenced by the game against West Virginia. With a 7-10 record, Smart has little to lose by throwing some unique and aggressive defensive tendencies at the Bears. Texas may press far more than they have all season, or they could look to play zone and dare Baylor’s guards to play as well as they did against Kansas State and Oklahoma. My guess is that Smart mixes defenses throughout the contest.

Prediction

Baylor absolutely needs to win this game to stay in the Big 12 title race. Texas has some moments where they play very well, but on the whole, there’s a reason the Longhorns are 7-10. Barring Eric Davis getting very hot from 3-point range, or Baylor’s guards coughing the ball up 20+ times, the Bears should win this one. Baylor is much better than Texas, and I’ll take Baylor 74-64.