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Baylor-Texas Tech Preview and Prediction

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Big 12 play begins

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve finally reached Big 12 play! No. 18 Baylor takes on No. 22 Texas Tech at 7:00 on Friday. The game is in Lubbock and airs on FCS.

The Red Raiders are a little underrated by the media. They rank No. 11 on KenPom and sport victories over Nevada and Northwestern. They lost to a very good Seton Hall team in New York. They’ve also eviscerated their non-power seven (shout-out to the AAC!) opponents.

As always, we’ll look at playing offense against the opponent, then defending them. Finally, we’ll close with a prediction.

Offense:

Texas Tech has an awesome defense. They rank No. 7 on KenPom and have some moments where they shut down opponents. The Red Raiders held Northwestern to .73 points per possession. To put that in perspective, the worst offensive team in the country scores.87 points per possession. Nevada—the No. 36 team on KenPom—scored just .92 points per possession against Texas Tech. That’s well off their normal adjusted average of 1.15 points per possession.

The Red Raider’s defense is awesome because they attack the ball well. Keenan Evans, their senior point guard, and Zach Smith, their senior forward, are extremely athletic and attack passing lanes. Texas Tech has added Zhaire Smith and Jordan Caroline. Those two join Smith in the top 500 nationally in block rate. That trio has helped Tech rank No. 36 in block rate. They’re awesome at weak-side help defense:

In just about every defensive category, Tech is excellent. They’re No. 6 in turnover percentage and No. 7 in effective field goal defense. They rank in the top 75 in defensive rebounding too. Nore Odiase is back after battling injuries, and he’ll be a load for Baylor to deal with in trying to crash the offensive glass.

There are two areas where Tech struggles on defense. First, they tend to foul quite a bit. By playing so aggressively, they create a ton of block/charge opportunities and they both initiate and create contact at the rim. Tech fans thought some of the late calls in Waco last season hurt them. I thought Manu Lecomte and Johnathan Motley faced a pretty negative whistle in Lubbock. But that’s what happens with Tech. They play basketball in a way where there are a ton of close calls. Was the defender still moving? Did the player really get all ball? And did the offensive player get hammered in the lane, or was the defensive player going straight up? Tech’s style of play means fans on both sides will argue about those questions. For the Bears, they have to convert when they get the benefit of the whistle and not falter when they feel like a call or two goes against them.

Tech’s defense does a good job responding to the scouting report. They were superb leaving the correct shooters open against Northwestern. Smith is old. So is Evans. They’re probably going to dare Mark Vital to hit a three or take the risk Jo Lual-Acuil, Vital or Tristan Clark can’t hit enough free throws. Small gambles go a long way in determining a basketball game; hopefully the Bears can make them pay.

Texas Tech’s biggest defensive issue is that they surrender a lot of 3-point shots. This happens for two big reasons. First, they like to help in the paint. Clark and Lual-Acuil have to be ready to kick it, and shooters have to be ready to fire. The Pirates were:

Second, Texas Tech suffers because they fly to the ball. They’re vulnerable to passes across the court and quick passes:

The Raiders can also get a little jumbled on drives. King McClure’s driving ability has grown immensely this season. The Bears might give him the option to drive and then place two of Jake Lindsey, Lecomte and Nuni Omot on the perimeter. It worked well for Nevada, as they blitzed out to a nice lead with shots like these:

I’d also expect Baylor to look to make some cross-court passes. Those kind of passes increase the risks the Bears will turn it over, which is a big concern with Baylor now falling back to 180th in turnover percentage. But Baylor’s best bet is to shoot a ton from beyond the arc. The Bears came back after falling behind early in Lubbock last season and kept fighting with shots like these:

Baylor has to embrace the three in this game. Texas Tech’s defense is sustained by holding opponents to 30.1% from deep. That number is going to go way up. 3-point shooting defense is best explained by attempts, not makes. Ken Pomeroy has explored this over the last decade, and consistently, that holds up. His basic finding is that teams seem to shoot 3-point shots when they’re open. There’s not much a defense does to make a team shoot a worse percentage. Sometimes the offense will miss, and that’s why long-term, the better measure is number of attempts. Texas Tech’s opponents have shot from beyond the arc on 43% of their possessions, which ranks 310th nationally. The men of Lubbock are due for a correction in opponent 3-point percentage.

Finally, this is the time for Omot to show his awesome run at the end of non-conference play is for real. He had one of his best games last season at home against Texas Tech. The Red Raiders could hard hedge ball screens, but they often like to weak (where they force the ball handler to dribble with their weak hand away from the screen) or ice (a defense along the sideline where the goal is to force the ball handler toward the sideline to create another defender) screens. Omot flips the screen here and hits the open three. Without Terry Maston, it’s time for Omot:

Defense:

Texas Tech’s offense ranks 40th. Chris Beard is in his second season as head coach, and once again, the Red Raiders run a motion offense. There’s a ton of off-ball movement and constant screening. Clark’s been a superb freshman, but he’s gotten lost off the ball. He’ll need to be hyper-aware this game.

Texas Tech has found a lot of success out of their horns set. Baylor runs this a lot too, and the Red Raiders, like the Bears, will have their two big men very high. With Evans speed and the mobility many of their bigs have, there are a bevy of opportunities in these plays:

I’d expect Baylor to play quite a bit of zone. Northwestern is not usually a zone team, but they played a 2-3 zone for large stretches of their game. And that defense did pretty well. The Bears might morph their zone to focus more on containing dribble penetration and conceding some jump shots. The problem is that Smith is such a smart player and screener that he can seal the help. Nevada’s not in zone here, but the Bear’s defense could end up in spots where these shots are open for the Red Raiders:

Baylor’s hope will be that Smith is left taking long jump shots and that the Red Raiders aren’t getting behind Lual-Acuil for lobs or taking a ton of open 3-point looks. Smith can make those shots, but if he ends up going 6-of-8 from 18 feet, you accept the odds have not been in your favor.

Beware Texas Tech in transition. I hope I can inspire some by saying beware. I ended up at a very basic Chinese buffet on Christmas. I don’t own food because I eat out every meal. So with so many spots closed, I went to a basic spot. I didn’t like the food, and somehow, the buffet and a Pepsi cost $22. The point in that—beyond the necessity of complaining about the experience—is that you can always get scammed when you least expect it. Texas Tech doesn’t seem like a team that runs. They’re the rare marathon runner without the sticker on the car. Baylor’s been inconsistent in their effort against their worst opponents. I think that’s a reflection of playing down to opponents, but there’s not a flip the switch on moment against Texas Tech. This team demands the best of their opponent.

Prediction:

What a wild time to be alive. Baylor and Texas Tech are both astronomically better at basketball than football.

The Bears will really miss Maston. He had 22 points on eight shots in the last meeting between these teams. The Red Raiders lack the length to challenge him on the block.

Texas Tech is so good on defense. Baylor really needs to go wild shooting 3-point shots. I’m fearful Baylor will let the perfect become the enemy of the good by passing up good shots waiting for the perfect one. The No. 7 defense in the country is not going to surrender too many perfect shots late in the clock. Take the good ones as they come.

These are two teams that are pretty evenly matched. KenPom gives Baylor a 29% chance to win. Those aren’t great odds, but those are basically the odds Donald Trump had to become President or that Doug Jones had to win the Alabama Senate race.

I think Texas Tech will force a few too many turnovers, and the Bears will have a rough eight minute stretch sometime during this contest that will be integral to the Red Raiders winning. I hope I’m wrong, but I’ll take Texas Tech 68, Baylor 60.

Prediction record: 12-0

Against the spread: 4-1 (many non-conference games did not list odds)