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Don’t Bet Against Baylor’s Pick and Roll Offense

The Bears had a few missed opportunities last night, but they should be able to get it fixed

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears managed to win a game where they shot about as poorly as they will all season, and Iowa State shot about as well as they will all season. If Baylor makes a few more threes, or if Iowa State returns to normal, then the Bears win that one pretty easily.

But Baylor’s pick and roll offense was off last night. A few more points out of the pick and roll a game could be the difference between a first place finish or falling clearly below Kansas and West Virginia.

The high pick and roll is the most common basketball play. In its most common iteration, the ball handler waits for the big man to set a screen. It’s a simple action, but there are a number of ways to defend it, and a number of ways to react to the defense.

The Bears run a ton of high pick and rolls. Baylor has skilled big men, and a distinct size advantage against almost any team. The pick and roll, at its best, forces opponents to react quickly and creates mismatches.

Last night, Baylor did well at the beginning of the game running the pick and roll. On the first high pick and roll, Iowa State trapped King McClure. McClure dribbled the ball out and hit Lual-Acuil, who finished the play with a slam dunk:

The pick and roll is not just about either the ball handler or the screener finishing the play immediately. On the second high pick and roll, the Bears rely on a bump down low by Manu Lecomte to free up Motley for a dunk:

One of the Bears bigger problems last night was that they failed to immediately hit big men when they had mismatch opportunities. On some occasions, the Bears may look to set up a different look for later in the game. But on this play, Ish Wainright would have given Baylor a better chance if he hit Motley with 6’5 Matt Thomas on him after a switch, instead of giving Lual-Acuil a 3-point chance:

And on this play, Al Freeman could have looked to find Terry Maston. Maston’s man comes out with a soft hedge, but Freeman takes too wide of an angle around the screen, which prevents him from hitting Maston:

Baylor had some problems with timing off of Iowa State’s traps. Frequently, the Bears didn’t wait long enough for the screen, or they took too long to hit an open screener. Here, Lecomte waits a split second too long to hit Maston, which leads to the Iowa State steal:

Baylor was not very efficient in high pick and roll action for much of the night. On the first 10 high pick and rolls, Baylor averaged just .6 points per possession. Baylor’s adjusted KenPom offensive efficiency is 1.18 points per possession, which makes that .6 total rough.

But there are several reasons Baylor’s pick and roll offense should hit another level. First, the Bears will get better at reading some of these defensive looks. Iowa State mixed up its pick and roll defense. Also, give the Cyclones credit for making a huge leap defensively this season. They are up to 16 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency. While Al Freeman went too wide on Iowa State’s hedge earlier, he did a brilliant job against a trap. Maston misses the shot, but he’s normally excellent from there:

Second, the Bears have skilled guards. Lecomte gets to the middle of the floor and makes a nice running shot, a skill that would help Baylor win the game at the end too:

Third, Baylor’s bigs are capable of slipping screens. Lual-Acuil does this well, and Wainright is tall enough there isn’t much hope when Baylor times this right:

Fourth, Baylor is just too talented and experienced to not get this figured out. Seth Davis complains Baylor does not have the top line talent of other top ten teams like Kentucky, North Carolina, UCLA, and Kansas. But the issue is that Baylor’s talent in 2017 is actually that good. Malik Monk is fantastic at 19. He’s certainly much better at 19 than anyone Baylor had at 19. And at 22, there’s a good chance he’ll be much better than anyone Baylor has at 22. Fortunately, in the 2017 season, all of that is irrelevant. What is relevant is that in 2017 Ish Wainright makes Baylor a phenomenal team when he’s on the court, partially because he can make passes like this:

The Bears had a rough night, and Iowa State played about their best basketball. The Bears still won. This is certainly a top ten team. How Baylor improves in the high pick and roll will go a long way in determining if the Bears can get back to the Final Four for the first time since 1950. But a team with the motto “we still suck,” seems like they’re not satisfied as they approach their first top ranking in school history.