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Baylor-Oklahoma Preview and Prediction

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A tough challenge as Baylor needs to go on a run

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Baylor Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor (12-8, 2-6) takes on Oklahoma (15-5, 5-3) at 8:00 on Tuesday. The game is in Norman and airs on ESPN2.

Oklahoma’s point guard, Trae Young, has been the star of college basketball. He’ll be a massive challenge for the Bears.

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

Offense:

The Sooner’s defense is okay. They rank 63rd in defensive efficiency. With nobody taller than 6-foot-9 in their starting five, they allow quite a few shots at the rim. Opponents are attempting 40.2% of their shots at the rim, per hoop-math:

Oklahoma’s not very good at defensive rebounding. The Sooners rank 218th in defensive rebounding. When you mix in their trouble stopping big men and holding the defensive glass, it might scream, “stay big.” But the Sooners can struggle on the interior with Baylor playing one big man and spacing the floor. The problems—as we’ll highlight on defense—with staying big make me very hesitant to try and play two big men against Oklahoma.

The constant refrain of defending Baylor basketball is that if you can hard hedge ball screens, you will hard hedge ball screens. Oklahoma mixes their defense, often weaking those actions, but Baylor’s struggled mightily against teams that hard hedge, so expect Oklahoma to join the movement of hard hedging Baylor.

Oklahoma often creates their own problems hard hedging. In both their hard hedging and weak looks, they leave slight gaps that TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas State have exploited for nice looks near the hoop. They also can run into themselves hard hedging, which means the Bears should be in attack mode:

I’d like the Bears to play small because they’d be able to attack in isolation settings. Brady Manek would have trouble containing Nuni Omot or Mark Vital, just like he had trouble dealing with a driving Dean Wade:

Alabama, Oklahoma State and Arkansas all won against Oklahoma, in part, with excellent performances from their guards. Each team had a guard with an offensive rating of at least 120. Manu Lecomte—against Oklahoma State—is the only Baylor guard in the last four games to achieve that feat. Baylor’s guards are going to have to make shots and attack out of pick-and-rolls. If they don’t, this could get ugly.

Defense:

Oklahoma’s offense is excellent. They rank 17th in the country and are led by Trae Young, the favorite for National Player of the Year and a guaranteed top 10 pick, and maybe even the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

The Sooners have gone from 117th on offense in 2016-2017, to 17th this season. That kind of improvement is unbelievable and is a testament to the strength of Young.

Nearly everyone who writes about college basketball has profiled Young. ESPN—when they’re not talking about the NFL for 8 hours a day—raves about him. And I understand if you haven’t watched much Oklahoma that it might seem over the top. But it’s not. Young is the best Big 12 player since Michael Beasley, and he might be the best player in league history. He’s the best off-hand passing point guard I’ve ever seen. The Bears can’t be lazy:

Young also takes the ball to the hoop well. Oklahoma is last in the Big 12 in forcing defensive turnovers, but Young is so good in transition and draws so much attention that he can find teammates:

I’d be extremely hesitant to play zone. The Sooners have three shooters hitting at least 39% of their threes, and a fourth, Kameron McGusty, has hit over 40% of his looks in conference. Oklahoma’s good at catching the weak-side slightly out of position and connecting on open shots. They’re especially deadly with Manek, a man Tom Crean compared to Klay Thompson because he can fire threes without needing to lower the ball. His quick release and 42% mark from deep makes the zone a scary proposition:

Oklahoma’s good at driving on late contests. Here, TCU’s zone once again gives up a bucket:

Long Kruger, Oklahoma’s coach and the former Kansas State coach and alumnus (the Wildcats having Frank Martin, Dana Altman, Bob Huggins and Kruger as former coaches is wild), has built excellent offenses. Against Texas Tech, he had a nice back screen to free Manek up for a lob from Young:

Not long after, the Sooners ran their version of inverted veer. Manek heads to the hoop, and Texas Tech’s two defenders follow him to the hoop. That leaves Christian James wide open for the three. Baylor will need to communicate to prevent Tech’s fate:

During the Buddy Hield era, the Sooners would run a floppy set out of their veer action to get Hield open. The Sooners can still dial up those looks, and they often get Young open out of floppy. The Bears need to be sure if they’re switching off-ball action and other looks. Oklahoma’s built to punish slight mistakes.

I wrote yesterday that I think it’s time for Baylor to play small. One big reason is that Baylor would be able to switch 1-4. The Sooners run high pick-and-rolls and when teams hard hedge, Young can turn the corner and get to the rim. Kansas State did a nice job containing Young, to a degree, by hard heding. But the Bears almost never hedge, and when they tried to do that in Lawrence, it went poorly:

Alabama looked about the same as Baylor when they tried to hedge, but maybe this is just a reason a soft hedge is the problem. I’d still be nervous about implementing a new scheme against a team that’s so good scoring out of the pick-and-roll:

When opponent’s weak, he can attack and find open rollers. When they switch he can exploit match-ups. But if Young wants to dance and wins, then we’ll understand TCU’s pain:

The Bears might consider going to a box and one, triangle and two or stay glued to Young. Lindsey did that two years ago against Niang. Alabama did a decent job having different guards stay glued to Young. But Oklahoma also missed a few open shots during a stretch late in the second half. They didn’t have too many terrible possessions during that stretch.

Prediction:

When Oklahoma and Young hit shots, they’re nearly unstoppable. They can space the floor and rain threes against event the best defenses. If they can stay close, they’re usually good for making a run, as evidenced by starting 0-of-10 from deep against Texas Tech but still winning 75-65.

The Bears are due to get wildly hot from three. Their 25.5% 3-point mark in conference play would rank last nationally over the course of a full season. Maybe Lecomte runs to form and King McClure goes wild.

Baylor’s not been able to get hot from three though. Even if they can shoot pretty well, Oklahoma seems likely to shoot a bit better. The Bears need a bad game from Young or a wild night from deep. It’s hard to bet on either of those things happening. I’d like to be wrong, and I certainly was in recognizing how good Young would be in college, so maybe I’ll be wrong about the Sooner’s season again. But I have Oklahoma winning 78-66.

Season Prediction Record: 17-4

Prediction Against the Spread: 8-5