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West Virginia at Baylor Preview and Prediction

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Baylor seeks a win on senior night

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor (23-6, 10-6) takes on West Virginia (23-6, 11-5) at 6:00 on Monday. The game is in Waco, and it’s senior day.

Baylor was crushed by West Virginia in the original matchup, 89-68. West Virginia leads the nation in turnover percentage. Baylor is 290th in offensive turnover rate. Given those two stats, it wasn’t too surprising West Virginia forced a lot of turnovers. And they sure did: Baylor finished with 29 turnovers. The Bears have no shot to win the rematch if they don’t get that number down significantly.

I think a few of those turnovers are preventable. Baylor had a few turnovers like this:

Yet, some of those turnovers happen because West Virginia can force teams to play faster than they’d like. The Bears play at the 292nd fastest offensive pace. They normally don’t move that quickly, and Jo Lual-Acuil normally isn’t catching a pass out of an Al Freeman spin in that spot. When you do something different, you can make different mistakes. Baylor did in Morgantown.

Manu Lecomte could be out. He injured his ankle against Kansas and has been limited in practice. Against Iowa State, he missed most of the second half after attempting to take a charge. This is not a game Baylor wants to play without Lecomte.

Baylor played almost the entire first game with their usual two big men lineup. The Bears entered the game against the Mountaineers undefeated and ranked #1. It made sense Baylor didn’t want to change much. But I don’t think they can play two traditional big men for very long. When Baylor plays that lineup, that often forces Motley, Lual-Acuil or Terry Maston to come up to receive a pass as West Virginia presses at half-court. The Bears can either throw to one of those big men, which means they’re left with them handling the ball against a ferocious defense, or they can try and make difficult passes, which often ends in a turnover:

Baylor’s hope for this game should be that West Virginia is worse without Esa Ahmad. He’s out with a back injury. In the first matchup, he scored eight points and was active defensively. He’s one of the Big 12’s best defenders—ranking in the top 400 nationally in block percentage and steal percentage. Hopefully the Mountaineer’s defense takes a step back without him.

In five of West Virginia’s six losses, they have either turned it over at least 19 times or shot abysmally from behind the arc. Baylor ranks 275th in defensive turnover percentage, so it’s unlikely Baylor will turn the Mountaineers over much. I’d also expect Baylor to be hesitant to take chances and play aggressive defensively with Lecomte either out or severely limited. As a result, Baylor probably needs West Virginia to have an off night shooting. The Bears have a good 3-point defense, but unfortunately, a lot of 3-point defense is controlled by the offense. Baylor did an excellent job contesting Monte Morris and Deonte Burton in Ames, but sometimes the opponent just makes shots:

Baylor may stay big and hope they can hit the offensive glass. West Virginia ranks 316th in defensive rebounding percentage, while Baylor is 5th in offensive rebounding percentage. But I am terrified that Baylor will turn it over before even attempting a shot, which neutralizes any offensive rebounding advantage.

Prediction

West Virginia is a terrible matchup for Baylor. The Mountaineers are ranked fourth on KenPom, so they’re a problem for a lot of teams. But Baylor turns it over a ton, and West Virginia finds ways to turn over even the best teams at protecting the ball.

Baylor could win, but they’ll probably need to hit a ton of 3-point shots or catch West Virginia on a night they struggle. The 2010 Bears had problems with Kansas State, the 2012 team couldn’t beat Mizzou and the 2015 team was swept by Oklahoma State. All those teams were three seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and with Lecomte hobbled, the Bears might end up on that line as well (though they could still be a two seed). My point is that really good teams can face an opponent that presents a huge problem. The 2017 Mountaineers are that problem for the Bears.

Although I’d love for Ish Wainright to get a win in his final game in the Ferrell Center, the first Baylor men’s basketball player to make four NCAA Tournaments will have a bigger stage to pick up victories. I’ll take West Virginia 66-60.