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Baylor-Wisconsin: Preview and Prediction

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Avenge the 2014 Bears!

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M CC at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor (3-0) faces Wisconsin (2-1) at 8:30 Monday night in Kansas City. This should be a good battle between two top 25 caliber teams.

We’ll take a look at defending Wisconsin and playing offense against the Badgers. Then we’ll close with a prediction.

Defending Wisconsin:

The Badgers lost the last remnants of their 2015 national championship game team. Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes are out of eligibility. It’s natural to expect this team to take a step back from last season’s squad that upset Villanova in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

Wisconsin may be about as good as last season though, and that’s largely due to the return of Ethan Happ, a 6-foot-10 elite post scorer. Even when he catches passes far from the hoop, he goes to work:

Jo Lual-Acuil will probably be Happ’s primary defender. Lual-Acuil is an excellent shot blocker and defensive rebounder. His big problem is that he can struggle to hold his position in the paint:

The Bears could try and double Happ, or at least have the defense ready to help. The problem is that Happ is not just an elite scorer. He ranks in the top 250 in assist rate and had eight assists against Xavier. The Bear’s risk doubling or giving Wisconsin space to cut at their own risk:

The Badgers run quite a few pick-and-rolls. The Bears usually ice side pick-and-rolls. The goal is to drop their big man back and force the guard to make a long jumper while relying on the sideline as an extra defender. Happ sets such good screens that any miscommunication between the two defenders is a disaster. Communication and fighting hard will be key against the Badgers:

Baylor needs to watch out for Wisconsin’s lobs. The Bear’s zone will extend out from the hoop and become vulnerable to weak side cuts. Kansas has run a version of this play (with different personnel initiating the action) against the Bears. I’m worried about the Bears defending this action in their 1-3-1 zone:

Wisconsin is also a good 3-point shooting team. The Badgers enter the game 158th in the country in 3-point percentage. But that’s misleading. Three of their starters are hitting at least 43% of their triples. D’Mitrik Trice and Andy Van Vliet are both good shooters. They’ve attempted half their looks from beyond the arc. The Bear’s guards and forwards will be put through the squeeze of running around a ton of screens on Monday night.

One positive sign for the Bears is that Wisconsin has collapsed as an offensive rebounding team. They grabbed just 19% of their misses against Xavier. That should allow Baylor to play more aggressively at the rim. There’s still that lingering concern about making sure Baylor doesn’t give up cuts in those situations, but Wisconsin is ready to head back and defend. Lual-Acuil should be ready to meet them at the rim:

Expect Baylor to not trap as much. The Bears have experimented with trapping more on the wing. They’ve done that some in the past, but they’ve ramped that up in their first three games. That’s probably a reflection of the poor ball handling of their opponents, not a plan for the full season. Wisconsin ranks 10th in turnover rate. They don’t make too many mistakes. As TLC reminds us, “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls.” There’s no need for the Bears to get too aggressive and look for the turnovers they’re not used to. The Bears should focus on first shot defense and collecting defensive rebounds.

Baylor’s Offense:

The Bears have stayed fairly similar to their 2017 iteration. Johnathan Motley is gone, but the Bear’s statistical profile is nearly identical to last season. Lual-Acuil is 2nd in offensive rebounding rate, which bodes well for Baylor once again finishing top five in offensive rebounding. Recent Baylor squads have survived turning it over too often and shooting slumps thanks to second chances provided by Rico Gathers, Motley and others. Lual-Acuil, Clark and Terry Maston should continue that tradition.

Wisconsin is an excellent defensive rebounding team. They’re 8th in defensive rebounding percentage. Baylor may have to make their first opportunity count in Kansas City.

Jake Lindsey should have the ball in his hands during this game for two reasons. First, Manu Lecomte should be able to get open running off screens. Wisconsin’s guards frequently struggled to keep up with Xavier’s guards. Lecomte is one of the best guards running off screens. Xavier’s big man didn’t set the best screen, and they still had an open shot here:

Lual-Acuil can set a better screen. The Badgers are going to have to be better or Baylor will make them pay:

Lindsey also should have some nice opportunities with Maston. Wisconsin likes to hard hedge and also shadow the ball handler. J.P. Macura missed the original opportunity to hit his big man on a bounce pass:

Lindsey and Maston connect when any path exists:

Has Baylor really solved their turnover problems from last season? That’s maybe the biggest question for the Bears going forward. Their adjusted turnover percentage is 4% lower this season. Wisconsin hasn’t been too good at forcing turnovers either, so even if Baylor’s improvement is a mirage sustained by poor opponents, Wisconsin may not be the team to bring Baylor back to reality.

Finally, look for Baylor to push the pace some. The Badgers do avoid crashing the glass, but Happ works close to the hoop and iss physical. When he misses, it’s going to take him a second to get back on defense. That can lead Wisconsin’s defense scrambling to pick up 3-point shooters. Macura had a good 3-point look in that situation and ended up driving for a make:

The Bears had been hesitant to push the pace the last few seasons. They were 295th in offensive pace of play last season. The Bears aren’t playing that much faster—they’re just 199th in that category now. But part of how they’re playing slightly faster is because they’ve run when the opportunity exists. The Bears should push it whenever they have a numbers advantage. They’ve done well doing that early in the season:

Prediction:

This looks like a close game. KenPom gives Baylor a 68-67 edge and a 54% chance to win. It could come down to something as small as the awesome play working:

Baylor looks a little better to me. I’m terrified of Happ, but I think he could have a game like Michael Beasley had against the Bears in 2008, and the Bears could still win. The Badgers don’t have too many other pieces that scare me.

I think the Bears pull this one out, 70-62. Wisconsin could win this game and Happ could be too much. I’d rather have Baylor’s roster and my belief is that an opponent that can’t turn the Bears over or grab offensive rebounds will struggle to beat them. Baylor will avenge the 2014 team’s loss to Wisconsin.