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Baylor-Xavier Preview and Prediction

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The Bears face their toughest game so far

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Baylor Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor takes on Xavier at 5:30 tomorrow in Cincinnati. The game airs on FS1. This will be a difficult contest for the Bears. KenPom gives Baylor a 39% chance to win. It’s tough to beat a top 25 team on the road.

As always, we’ll look at how Baylor will match-up on offense and defense. Then we’ll offer a prediction.

Offense:

Xavier is ranked 55th on defense. Opponents are shooting 31.7% on 2-point jump shots and 29.7% on 3-point shots. Those are unsustainably good numbers. Most concerning for Xavier is that 73% of opponent shots are 3-point shots or shots at the rim. In contrast, Baylor’s opponents take 56% of their shots in those two areas. In short, the Musketeers opponents are taking good shots and eventually those good shots will go in.

Baylor should not be afraid to make quick decisions. Xavier will play zone, and their help principles are more liberal. In the following clip, J.P. Macurra slides over to the nail, and Wisconsin isn’t afraid to let it rip while he’s recovering to the top of the perimeter. King McClure, Manu Lecomte, Jake Lindsey, Terry Maston and Nuni Omot should follow suit:

Lecomte destroyed Xavier doing that last season. He went 6-of-9 from 3-point range on the way to a 26 point day. There’s no doubt Xavier remembers:

The Musketeers are a pretty good defensive rebounding club. They rank 102nd in that category. The Bears enter the game 22nd in offensive rebounding rate. Xavier sometimes plays a smaller front-line, but as this clip demonstrates, they box out very well:

One positive sign for Baylor is that Xavier doesn’t turn folks over. They’re 313th in turnover percentage. Baylor was awful at not turning the ball over last season, and the Bears turned it over 16 times against the Jays. The Bears can’t be that bad on the road.

The Bears should also get a little weird with Maston this game. I’m a proponent of that just about every contest. Before the season, on the BearDroppings podcast, Jerome Tang, Baylor’s Associate Head Coach, said that he thought Maston would have a big season. So far, Tang’s been a prophet. Maston’s added 3-point range and he can still roll to the rim well (shout out Lindsey for the nice pass):

Baylor’s had a lot of trouble against teams that hard hedge ball screens. Xavier does not traditionally defend that way. They could mix things up, given Baylor’s problems. I don’t expect to see that, but it’s something to look for.

Defense:

Unlike Greg Schiano becoming Tennessee’s coach, believe everything you hear about Xavier’s offense being fantastic. Trevon Bluiett is a 6-foot-6 wing who can do about everything. He’s shooting 51% from 3-point land to start the season. He dropped 23 on Baylor last season while shooting 6-of-10 from deep.

Macurra will be a problem for Baylor. He’s Xavier’s point guard, and he moves extremely well off the ball. The Musketeers space opponents and then get solid looks at the hoop:

Xavier’s big man, Tyrique Jones, has a superb post game. He’s probably not getting enough shots. He’s 26-of-37 on the season and backing opponents down well. Some game Xavier will let him shoot it 10 times, and the Musketeers will create a disastrous foul situation for their opponent.

The Bears need to be hyper alert in their zone. Xavier will shoot anything, at any time. The Musketeers are just 28th in average time of offensive possession. They’re second nationally in effective field goal percentage, and they’re the country’s best 2-point shooting team. This team will make a few shots, even when Baylor plays perfect defense. That shouldn’t make the Bears less perfect going forward, but watching a team do this can do something to a man:

With Xavier’s focus on spacing the floor, they are not a great offensive rebounding squad. But they’re an active team and if Baylor’s playing a lot of zone, the Musketeers could collect some long boards.

Prediction:

On a neutral court or in a seven game series, I’d take Baylor to beat Xavier. Xavier is not well prepared to exploit many of Baylor’s weaknesses, and the Bears are more reliable than the Musketeers.

I don’t put a lot in Xavier’s loss to Arizona State. The Sun Devils hit 13-of-27 3-point shots and made 92% of their 25 free throw attempts. Some days your opponent doesn’t miss and you can’t win.

I said before the season that Baylor would lose this game, and I’ll stick with that call. I love Baylor basketball. I’m a Chiefs fan, and if you told me Alex Smith would remain the Chiefs starting quarterback in 2018, and the team would not make the playoffs for the next two seasons in exchange for Baylor basketball winning this game, I’d tell you Alex Smith is my quarterback.

Winning on the road against top 25 teams is ridiculously tough. I fear one of Baylor’s big men will get in early foul trouble, and Xavier will get hot from 3-point range. I expect the Bears to keep it close but fall a little short. I’ll take Baylor to cover, but I’ve got Xavier winning 74-70.

Prediction record: 5-0

Against the Spread: 2-0