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What Happened: Reviewing Baylor’s Late Loss at Allen Fieldhouse

The Bears couldn’t make the shots they needed to make

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The narrative around Baylor’s loss at Allen Fieldhouse yesterday is a mess. A bunch of folks are mad at Scott Drew because the Bears have now lost 11 in a row to the Jayhawks. Others claim Drew or the players blew the game late.

In 2018, people have embraced the right to be wrong. And a review of the game shows why those narratives are wrong. The Bears simply shot too poorly from deep, and failed to make shots late. The scheme and effort were not the problem. Sometimes the best a team and coaching staff can offer falls a little short against one of the best teams in the country.

The Bears appeared well on the way to getting blown out. Baylor opened with their normal starting five, and the Jayhawks blitzed the Bears. Kansas raced out to a 9-0 lead and then a 16-3 edge.

Then, Drew and the staff called for a lineup they’d played all of 10 minutes on the season. In the preview, I mentioned this possibility:

Kansas doesn’t get to the line much (344th nationally in free throw rate), and they don’t offensive rebound very well, ranking 184th in that category. If the Bears’ big men can’t keep up with Kansas’ shooters, the Bears might decide to go small with Omot at power forward to get additional speed and gain the ability to switch more dribble hand-offs and ball screens.

If you want to blame Drew and his staff for blowing the late lead (which we’ll get to shortly), then the staff deserves a ton of credit for going small. A lot of coaches would stay big and hope that they’d find a way to still run Kansas off the 3-point line. A few minutes of Baylor’s two big men lineup revealed that was not the case. The Bears were willing to get blown out—because there was a legitimate concern the small lineup that had played almost no minutes together would fail—to win.

After trailing 16-3, the Bears went on a 58-40 run to lead 61-56 with 4:36 remaining. The Bears had a 73.5% chance to win, according to ESPN’s Win Probability Index. So, how did it go wrong?

On the next possession, Baylor botches a drive. King McClure offers help on Svi Mykhailiuk’s drive to the hoop, and Malik Newman drills an open three:

McClure should not have offered help on Mykhailiuk’s drive. Yes, he’d dunked on Mark Vital earlier, but he also missed a couple of layups. Omot would have at least contested the shot. Instead, Newman was given an open look. On a day Bill Self called Newman’s best as a Jayhawk, leaving him is a moment that really hurt.

On the next possession, Manu Lecomte scores out of a dribble hand-off, no reason to complain here:

Baylor then took a six point lead after Udoka Azubuike travels, and Kansas goal-tends. Newman drives to the hoop and draws a foul. He drills both, and Kansas leads 65-61 with 3:08 left. Nothing in that sequence is out of the ordinary.

The Bears then isolate Lecomte after a high-ball screen from Jake Lindsey, and Lecomte scores again:

Mykhailiuk then misses a three, and Baylor takes possession.

Baylor then isolates Lecomte again. It’s fine to criticize him for going too early in the shot clock against Vick, but this time he misses a floater instead of a turnaround jumper. But he’d just made two shots in the same situation. I’m sure Lecomte and the staff were happy with him getting the chance to take Vick again:

On the next play, Newman again drives and scores. Kansas shoots so well from three that helping off a shooter is not going to happen. This shouldn’t have been called a foul, but he played a phenomenal game, and he gained an extra point here:

Baylor ran the perfect play on the next sequence. The Bears have been fairly successful running their single-double action against the Jayhawks. Somehow, Devonte Graham doesn’t realize Lecomte’s going to run into the corner. There may have been no more egregious mistake in the final four minutes than that one. As I outlined in the preview, here’s what’s going to happen when Baylor runs this play:

And Lecomte gets wide open, he just misses:

Newman gets out in transition and makes a shot in the next five seconds. He was absolutely fantastic on Saturday. Lecomte has to run him off the 3-point line and Lual-Acuil is a slight moment behind. Maybe he should have challenged that shot, but he’d been called for a foul going straight up and was late. Tip your hat to Newman for his game:

Baylor then takes a timeout and decides to run what I call the awesome play, which is a rip action set. The play can either lead to a dunk or layup under the hoop:

Or it can spring a shooter free from three. I noted in the preview that Vick had sometimes been slow catching up with the shooter on the perimeter coming off a screen in the paint. Newman is the defender here, and he’s just a little late catching up with McClure. Maybe McClure should just shoot the three, but he gets to the hoop and can’t get the call against Azubuike. The play works well:

Newman then scores in transition, again. The Bears don’t mess anything up. The man was moving and made a layup. Applaud him.

Baylor has the ball back and set a series of high screens to try and isolate Lecomte on Azubuike. They nearly do, but they end up passing the ball around before its knocked out with 20 seconds on the shot clock. Baylor finds Lecomte open, but he air-balls a three:

Baylor fouls Azubuike, and he misses both free throws. The Bears take possession with 17.7 seconds left down by a point. The Bears isolate Lecomte high, and he gets a good look in that spot. He just misses it:

Kansas makes both free throws. Baylor throws the ball the length of the court, and the ball is knocked out. Baylor has 2.9 seconds. Tristan Clark catches the ball after a back screen from McClure. If he catches it, then he has Lecomte and Omot on the perimeter. One of those guys would have, at worst, a semi-contested look. But Clark can’t corral the ball, and the Bears lose:

Why did Lecomte take so many shots, if he’s been bad or is not clutch?

There’s a lot wrong with this narrative. Lecomte is not bad. He’s a career 40% 3-point shooter. He exploded for seven 3-point makes against Oklahoma State and led the Bears to victory. He’s been good recently, so it’s not crazy to expect him to make shots. He’d also taken Vick off the dribble twice in the last four minutes of the game. It didn’t appear the moment was too big for him.

Lecomte has also been clutch. Ask Iowa State:

Kansas State:

Or USC, with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line, when he earned the basket via the goaltend:

Sometimes dudes miss shots. He’s made plenty and is Baylor’s best player. The Bears need Lecomte to be very good to achieve their goals. He’s shown he can do it. They shouldn’t abandon him because of a bad stretch.

The defense must have been terrible. You haven’t mentioned that!

Once again, this narrative—which is out there—is totally wrong.

Baylor held Kansas to 1.01 points per possession. That’s the 3rd lowest total an opponent has held Kansas this season. It’s also the lowest total for Kansas in Big 12 play.

The Bears did a wonderful job daring Azubuike and Garrett to beat them from the line. Kansas missed 13 free throws. That wasn’t an accident. Those two can’t shoot, and Baylor gambled they wouldn’t be able to make enough. If the offense had been a little better, the Bears would have been fine.

Baylor also did a nice job, for most of the game, running Kansas off the 3-point line. Ken Pomeroy has investigated this in depth, and his big finding is that 3-point defense is about limiting attempts, not makes. Kansas hit 39% of their threes. But they only attempted 18 triples. The Jayhawks are a wonderful 3-point shooting team—ranking 14th nationally at 41.4% from deep. Limiting Kansas’ 3-point attempts was imperative. Among Big 12 opponents, only TCU limited Kansas’ 3-point shooting more. But the Horned Frogs strength there didn’t carry over. Kansas averaged 1.22 points per possession. No Big 12 team was as effective at limiting 3-point attempts and Kansas’ offensive output as the Bears. The defense did more than enough.

You’ve buried the lede! Why did Baylor lose?

It’s the 3-point shooting, stupid. Baylor went 4-of-20 from deep, which is 20%. The worst team in the country shoots 27.2% from deep. Had the Bears shot just 25%, they would have forced overtime.

Bill Self has lost 12 times in Allen Fieldhouse. Here’s a chart comparing 3-point shooting in those losses:

Only Iowa State and Nevada in 2005, and Texas Tech this season, have shot 25% or worse and won. All three of those times the Jayhawks were abysmal from deep. Kansas was not on Saturday. The Bears needed to just be bad from deep or get Kansas to have an off-night from 3-point range. Instead, Baylor was catastrophically bad from beyond the arc and Kansas made shots. One team has won in Allen Fieldhouse shooting 30% or worse from three since 2006. Had Baylor achieved that mediocre mark, they’d have been the second.